Shooting Milsurps

Cast in the Ought Six


Corky Connell/sundog


As the last car drove away from the range, I stood by myself pondering what had just transpired.  It was high noon.  “Hot damn,” I thought.  “We pulled it off!”


Several club members had just shot their first military bolt action match.  And had fun.  That was several years ago.  It’s still going, stronger than ever, and the fellers, and gals, are still having fun.  In the matter of a couple of hours you shoot 50 rounds, plus sighters, on five record targets for group and score.  Best of all, you get all the camaraderie, braggin’, and good natured story tellin’ you can stand for another whole month.


So what does it take to do this?  Not much.  An old rack grade M1903/03A3 (Figure 1) is a fine way to get started.


Figure 1: 1903A3 Springfield



It seems like the 03s and the Swedish Mausers are the predominate rifles in this game, but you’ll see a lot of others like M1917s, British Enfields, K31s, Mosin Nagants, Arisakas, Carcanos, all of the Mauser variants, and the list goes on.  Some of the guys, and gals, go to great lengths to get them all ‘purdied up’, but they have to be otherwise left in “as issued” condition to shoot this match.  That’s the main reason so many 03s and 03A3s show up.  They are readily available, and most just flat shoot good.  Rules allow for changing to a taller, but similar, front sight in order to get zero’d at 100.  Most of these fine old pieces have a battle sight zero of 300 yards.


Figure 2:  M1903A3 Rear Sight “as issued”



So what about shooting some 50 plus rounds?  A feller could sure get a bruised shoulder, and for the kids who show up it’s even worse.  And who can afford to buy that much ammo every month?  That would be a definite bruise to the pocket book, too.  Of course, there’s plenty of milsurp ammo out there.  The alternative, of course, is - - load your own.  After all, the whole idea about shooting this match is just getting out to the range and having a little fun with your pals.  It was never intended to be expensive or turn into yet another “equipment race”.  We charge just five bucks, and prizes are a measly ole dollar to win small group or a high score.  The aggregate winner gets a five spot – and braggin’ rights until next match.



Figure 3: SR-21 Target with cast bullet group


Any of us, on a good day, can shoot one of these old war horses just fine with some good jacketed ammo.  My contention has always been that at 100 yards a cast bullet can be every bit as accurate as jacketed (and a whole lot more comfortable to shoot).  Consistent scores of 95 plus on the SR-21 and very regular sub three inch groups (See Figure 3)have proven that.  The best part is knowing that you had a hand in crafting the bullet.  There is a lot of satisfaction in walking down range for a target change and seeing a 2-inch group or a 100 so many X count.  I’ve done that many times, but the satisfaction is always the same.


So how do you get there from here?


Years ago I remember reading an article by Frank Marshall in which he talked about shooting cast in a 30-06 and how well he did after tweaking the load.  A copy of that article is in the current Lyman Cast Bullet manual.  Of course, if one wants, one can just buy some cast bullets.  There are plenty of places that make them, but then again why not try your hand at the witch’s caldron.  There are a lot of reasons that would prompt you into wanting to do this.  First, you will probably never wear out your barrel.  It takes forever to wear out brass.  I have some 30-06 brass that has in excess of 25 loadings and is still very useable.  Next, you will probably never wear out you – cast shooting can be a great low recoil and high accuracy activity.  Lastly, the mere fact that you can produce a bullet of extreme accuracy is just alluring and, well, actually addictive.  Many of these bullets hunt good, too, but that’s for another article.


I might take just a few lines here and talk about sights.  It’s a far cry from the standard issue sights on most of the old milsurps to some of the great optics available today, not to mention all of the fine metallic sights also available.  The quality of the these sights can vastly improve accuracy.  Here is just one example.  This rifle is a CMP (Civilian Marksmanship Program) Rock Island M1903 (Figure 4) that was dropped into a Carbolite stock by Bell and Carlson.  The front sight is a Lyman 17 globe fitted to an original front sight collar.  The rear sight is also a Lyman with target knobs (Figure 5).  It does very well with a variety of cast bullets.  I used it all last summer to shoot NRA High Power at 200 yards.  It is literally a blast to shoot!


Figure 4: M1903 in Carbolite stock

Lyman #17 globe front


Figure 5: Lyman receiver sight w/target knobs


Figure 6: Close up of Lyman #17 globe front





The next example is a National Ordnance M1903A3 with Remington 2-groove barrel, also fitted into a Carbolite stock, glass bedded(Figure 7), and sporting a relatively inexpensive but very effective Weaver 4X scope on Leupold mount and rings (Figure 7). The trigger has been upgraded to a Timney and the bolt handle has been changed to accommodate opening with the scope.  It too is very accurate shooting cast bullets.  Further down this article is a target that was shot with this rifle.


Figure 7: Sporter conversion of a Remington M1903A3


Figure 8: Weaver K4, Leupold mount and rings





Sure, there are so many variables involved that it can boggle the mind.  It’s not really all that difficult to get going though.  If you already cast bullets, you are most of the way there.  If you do not, it is not all that hard to get started.  I’ve seen some awesome groups shot with bullets from a rather inexpensive single cavity Lee mould, no doubt the cheapest mould available, and it shot really good.  That was in my son in law’s NRA Sporter, a gun his father had gotten many, many years ago.  After about 15 rounds I couldn’t even count holes anymore, the ten ring was mostly gone and additional rounds were just whizzing through the ragged hole.  “Start a new target, son….”


If you already hand load, there are some things you will have to get used to when loading the 30-06 with cast.  Whether with or without a gas check, a cast bullet has a tendency to shave lead when being seated.  Both Lyman and RCBS make case mouth expanders which work sort of, but not exactly, like flaring dies for pistol brass.  It makes more of a step than a flare and helps control shaving.  It’s an extra step in the loading process that I find drudgery.  I gave up long ago and now simply give the case a firm spin on a needle nose plier when needed.  The ever so gently flare works just fine.


While we’re on the subject of prepping brass, I’d like to briefly discuss neck sizing.  I’ve used exactly two kinds of neck sizers in the thirty plus years I’ve been doing this.  They both work very well, but one is superior.  For years I used Redding neck sizers.  With a dab of lube inside a case neck, applied with a cotton tip swap, they do a fine job.  In recent years I have been using Lee collet dies (Figure 8).  Not only is lube not needed, these dies do a much better job in reducing bullet run out.  Concentricity is the name of the game when shooting cast, and these Lee dies do a mighty fine job.  Short of not having a way to neck size, partial length sizing has served well for many of my bolts guns in many different cartridges.  The idea here is to leave that case and shoulder as fully expanded as possible so that is still chambers and allow the neck to have enough tension to hold the bullet in place.  To that end, if your chamber allows it and a bullet is large enough to load in a case without sizing, don’t.  Again, the idea is to disturb the case as little as possible in an attempt to maintain concentricity.  To the extreme, you can even index cases and bullets and register them in the chamber, but I do not recommend this unless it is absolutely necessary to wring out ever last drop of accuracy from a loading.


Figure 9:


Another thing to get used to and pay very particular attention to is the amount of powder going into the case.  In some instances it is possible to double and even triple charge a case!  When using powders like Red Dot, Unique, AA #9 and it’s many surplus variants, 2400, and many others, this is a definite safety concern.  I’ve developed my own routine that has served me well for many years.  First, no more than one powder on the bench at a time.  Next, once all of my cases are prepped and sitting mouth down in loading blocks with their new primers shining at me, I powder charge and check it, then seat and crimp the bullet all in one process.  After inspection, it goes in the “loaded rounds” storage box.  I mostly use a powder dump when loading, so after one cycle of the charging handle I look in the case and make sure the powder is at the proper level.  Then a bullet is seated.  I have been hand loading since the early 70s, and I have never double charged a round.  I’ve done a few other things, but not that.  As an aside.  I tried HS 7 once for the ’06 and was able to produce several consistent ‘click-bangs’.  HS 7 is a fine powder, but don’t bother trying it in the 30-06.  I suggest the Lyman Cast Bullet Manual as a starting place.  In the past few years, Accurate has also listed cast loads, as has Hodgdon and some others.





Figure 10: Various powders used in preparing the loads


Before we get off the subject of powders there are two things that need to be mentioned.  First is reducing charges.  Richard Lee’s book addresses this issue quite well and provides a formula that I use on a regular basis to double check selected loadings.  I would recommend this book as a reference.  Second is a strong warning about reducing charges of slow burning powders.  At least one theory suggests this practice invites S.E.E.( secondary explosion effect), a phenomenon that literally destroys the gun and sometimes the shooter due to spiked pressure.  There are so many other ways to reach desired results that it is just not worth it, in my opinion, to invite a disaster that can be easily avoided.  That said, there are many good loadings in the books using slow powders.  There is also an amazing wealth of knowledge on the Internet, a resource that only a few years ago did not even exist.  Hodgdon has ‘youth loads’ with 4895 on their web site.    Other web sites such Cast Boolits provide a gathering place for information.  Collectively, the folks on that forum have literally hundreds of years of experience.


One of the greatest things about shooting cast is that there are so many different moulds available, especially in 30 caliber.  Try them all.  Or try some of the tried and true favorites.  Mine is the Lyman 311291 and 21 grains of IMR 4227 and a Remington 9 ½ primer.  In an 03 it will yield about 1600 feet per second and is a very safe and mild load.  If the rifle has a decent barrel and tight sights it can also shoot a two inch 10-round group at a 100 yards.  Which brings up another thing about milsurp rifles.  Many have front sights that are too short for shooting this range.  They were originally designed to shoot a man at 300 yards and the sights were designed accordingly.  If you shoot high at 100 and your rear sight is bottomed out, then you will need a taller front sight.  I could not find a tall front sight for an 03A3 once, so I fabricated my own from a large washer of like thickness.  After forming, drilling, and cold bluing, it was a good replica that I was able to slowly file down to provide accurate shooting at 100 yards.  With a little sight black no one would ever know it was home made!


A second all time favorite bullet is the Lyman 311284, a bullet originally designed for the Krag service rifle in the very early 1900s, over 23 or 24 grains of 4198.  I’ve shot several one inch 10-round groups with this loading at 100 yards using a scoped 03A3 with a 2-groove Remington barrel.  If the shooter is up to the task there is a myriad of loadings that will serve well.  RCBS, which makes very good moulds and has excellent customer service, offers a 165 grain silhouette bullet that does a fine job in the 30-06, .308 Win, and a variety of other 30 caliber loadings.  At the January 2005 Military Bolt Match at my club I shot two 10-round groups well under three inches and another group on a score target that came in a hair over 1.7 inches!  That load was shot in a Remington 03A3 with 2-groove barrel.  It was the RCBS 30-180-SP, Hornady GC, sized .310 with Felix World Famous Lube, over 23.0 VV N120, in a Lake City National Match case sparked by a Remington 9 ½ primer.  The bullet is lightly engraved on loading.


This next picture is a representative 10-round 50-yard target shot off the bench before installation of the Timney trigger and glass bedding on the scoped National Ordnance 03A3 pictured above ( Figure 11).  The load is WIN brass 2 times fired and neck sized, Remington 9 1/2 Primer, Lyman 314291,  Hornady GC'd, and Lyman Super Moly Lube in a .312 sizer, 21.0 grains of  IMR 4227 (about 1635 fps).  The black aiming diamond is a 3/4 in target paster.



Figure 11: 10 shot 50 yard group




Somewhere in this whole discussion it is more than appropriate to talk about bullet weights, lengths, shapes, and twist rates.  Volumes have been written about this very topic.  I would be remiss to not mention the Greenhill formula, but that is not necessarily the end all for that discussion.  How is it that the little Lee 113 grain “soup can” can shoot well in a 10 twist 30-06, a barrel designed for something on the order of a inch long 180 grainer?  And why is it that spitzer type cast bullets usually do not shoot all that well when the sleek stream lined boat tail hollow point of the jacketed variety can shoot MOA at 600 yards?  Traditionally, cast bullets in the 10 twist 30-06 have been on the order of 160 to 220 grains with one ogive round nose or flat points and usually best with a squarely seated gas check on a square, flat base.  Don’t get me wrong.  Cast bullets, although capable of being as accurate, are not going to perform ballistically in the same manner as jacketed.  For a beginning cast bullet shooter to have early success, it is necessary to start with some traditional loadings.  From there, and with a success or two under your belt, then start experimenting!


Another thing about hand loading cast bullets is that the bullet can be seated long and into the lands.  When loading the rifle you can actually feel the bolt camming the bullet into the throat (not necessarily a good thing for high pressure jacketed loads).  A definite advantage is that ammo loaded in the manner will enhance concentricity.  That coupled with carefully prepared brass as described earlier can lead to great success.  With cast bullets little or no change occurs in pressure as would be the case with jacked bullets.  Most of these old milsurps have generous chambers and even more generous throats.  Cast bullets that are .001 inch or more oversize of bore is a good way to fill them up, and in most cases when properly fitted a cast bullet enhance will accuracy.



Figure 12: Cast loaded 30/06 rounds

Note the varied seating depths used.



As far as alloy is concerned, I’ve never been as picky about what is in it as how much of the same stuff I have so that I can make very long runs of the same alloy.  Many alloys have worked well including range scrap (mine is usually around 14 BHN), wheel weights, or either range scrap or wheel weights enriched with tin or solder, and tournament grade shot (for antimony and arsenic).  Some casters make up special runs of alloy with linotype.  The main idea here is that when you begin casting a lot of bullets, be sure to make a lot of them from the same batch of alloy.  Consistency is the name of the game.  For hunting purposes the harder alloys are not among favor.


Be consistently ruthless in culling bullets that are not fully formed.


            1                       2                         3                         4                       5                       6                         7                            8

Figure 13


1 -“Lee Soup Can” – C309-113-F

2 - Lee C312-155-2R for the 7.62x39 but useable in other 30 calibers

3 - RCBS 30-165-Silhouette

4 - Lyman 311291

5 - Lyman 311041

6 - RCBS 308-180-SP

7 - Lyman 314299

8 - Lyman 311284


When I very first became interested in bullet casting I had no idea that it would become a life long past time – more like an obsession.  I loved to shoot, and I saw it as a way to shoot more for less.  Well, that turned out to be only half true, because I do shoot more, a lot more.  The obsession?  Well, there were six of us who had a custom built moulds cut  for a 35 Whelen by David Mos of Mena, Arkansas.  It was patterned after the Lyman 3589, which has not been available for many years, but with an ever so slight meplat.  This was done before I even built the rifle.  When it did get built it sported a 14 twist Shilen barrel was chambered to fit my new boolit.  It shoots very well indeed.


There are several nice things about this hobby.  One is that I don’t spend very much time cleaning my guns, which means more time for casting, loading, and shooting.  You see, with cast bullets, smokeless powder, and a very good quality lube it’s simply not necessary.  In fact it is counterproductive to first round cold barrel accuracy.  If you have a good load, there should be no leading.  A good lube will leave a layer of protection for either the next bullet fired or resistance against the elements.  One of my 03s has well in excess of 3,000 rounds since its last bore cleaning.  It is as accurate now as it was after initial barrel fouling following that last cleaning job – which may not have been necessary!


My favorite commercial lube for a number of years was Lyman Super Moly.  But, if you enjoy doing it yourself, you might also want to make your own lube, too.  My very good friend, Felix Robbins, a cast bullet shooter extraordinaire in his own right, has given the world a recipe for what I believe is the finest lube ever made.  This is the thing that cast bullet shooters are made of.  Sharing.  Shooting.  Felix World Famous Boolit Lube can be tailored to any conditions.


The Ought Six will very shortly celebrate it’s centennial.  During that time it has probably been loaded with every imaginable combination of components ever available.  It is today still one of the best rounds ever developed.  For anything.  Bar none.


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