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SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING BLUE, SOMETHING NEW...
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
Gaining accuracy in a leveraction rifle is really not much different than doing it in a bolt action. The principles are the same. There is no mystery, it is just that most folks take if for granted that 3 to 5 inches at 100 yards is normal and you have to live with it. That is utter nonsense....first of all on today's market there is not one brand of leveraction, one style, or one make that won't generally shoot into less than 2 inches with the right ammo. Some few individual guns (lemons) may go into larger groups...but bolt actions have the same problems with the unusual stinker in a group.
In the 1930s leverguns were tested with10 shot groups with target scopes of the day, and even then groups hovered over the 1 1/2 to 2 inch group mark.. since then leverguns have been getting better and better. Today USRAC makes the barrel and the chamber and the rifling all at once....out of the box my 356XTR went into less than 1 inch at one hundred yards. And with a hard cast 220 grain bullet or a Speer 180 spirepoint and Reloader 7 powder my 200 yard groups were under 2 inches. I'm not even going to touch it for better accuracy except for trigger work, they all need trigger work, and floating the barrel.
You bet! First lets go down the list of thing that affect the accuracy of the leverguns ......
Numero uno is the cleaning wear at the muzzle of these fine guns. When I clean a levergun I take a cut-off case like the shoulder and neck section of a .30-30 and put it in the muzzle of my .32 Specials like a funnel... that saves the crown from cleaning rod wear. A tight necked .30-30 case section will do the .30-30. I use a fired and slightly opened .32 Special case section for the .356's and .358's, a fired .358 section for the .375 .. you get the idea. If the wear is already there, then the gun has to be recrowned. That is a job for the gunsmith. Tell him to go back as far as necessary ... I like an 11 degree crown from the bore out, instead of the normal rounded shape. The 11 degree is a target crown cut.
I know a few fella's that really keep their guns in fine shape. Always cleaning and tightening screws and such ... nothing wrong with all that if you are careful about some unexpected problems. the cleaning wear we already spoke of .. but tightening barrel bands and the screw at the end of the loading tube can lead to inaccuracy. Have you ever heard of the problems bolt action rifles have if the a hunk of wood INSIDE the forearm presses against the barrel? It causes a pressure point, and as the barrel heats from firing and expands it moves more away from that touch point, giving lousy groups at the target. The same idea holds true for barrel bands and for that first front screw in the tube into the underside of the barrel behind the crown.
Let's take that screw first ... turn your rifle over and look at it. Just a hole through the tube and a screw into the barrel at the crown. Simple. If the tube is too tight a fit for the barrel it becomes a pain in the rear end of accuracy. There has to be room for expansion of the barrel, and at the muzzle the most movement occurs. If it's tight the tube pulls down on the barrel as it heats up and stringing of the shots is the usual result.
It's easy to fix. A gunsmith can cut a dovetail cut into the bottom of the barrel right where the screw hole is...he then puts a piece of hardened dovetailed steel into that cut. The steel has been drilled and tapped for a larger hole and screw....the hole in the tube is cut a little larger than the new screw, and small, thin washer of polyethylene is placed between the barrel bottom and the tube on that screw. When it is put together that tube hole and washer gives a little expansion room at the tube hole. Now it might seem that you can get away with just enlarging the barrel screw hole and rethreading, opening the tube hole and putting a larger screw directly into the barrel and cut out all that time-consuming dovetail cutting and fitting. NO!
The larger screw sets up much more impact in the larger diameter new screw hole... every time the rifle is fired....from the tube bump at firing. And after two or three score rounds of smart ammo, the hard front screw rips the softer threads out of the barrel hole. But a hardened hunk of dovetail steel set in place, drilled and tapped, lasts forever. Believe it or not the tube end and the screw are harder than the barrel. The barrel is tough, not hard...if it were hard it would be brittle and couldn't take the pressure. Now see why gunsmiths charge so much? Their knowledge has to be very vast in many fields, good ones are hard to find.
Next is the barrel bands ...their only function should be cosmetic. They were there in 1885 so they should be there today. That's part of the reasoning for owning a levergun...it's like yesterday in looks, but you want it to shoot like today. I take the bands off.... put two thin blocks of wood in my vise and lock the band into it tight so that the part that grips the barrel is up and clear to work on. Take a dowel stick that fits into the chuck of your drill, with a hacksaw put a deep cut down one end through the middle. Tear a piece of fine grit paper in a strip and slip it into the cut in the dowel so that when it is locked in the chuck and turns, the rough side is exposed. Put that dowel and grit paper inside the band ring and turn the drill on....that will take metal out of the inside of the ring. It's a cut and try game. The idea is to relieve the barrel loop enough so that when the band is replaced and tightened down on the tube it doesn't touch the barrel...just looks like it does. Don't worry, the screw at the tube in the front will keep the tube in place.
Next is a lot of work, about an hour, but worth it. Take the forearm off, and with a hunk of broom handle with sandpaper, relieve it so it won't touch the barrel when put back on the rifle. How does the forearm stay in place you wonder? Easy, but you do this next step carefully.
Leaving the loading tube out of the gun, hold the forearm in place against the barrel....then from the forearm front, place a mark about two inches back on the forearm and the barrel. I use a felt tip pen. Then lay the forearm aside for a moment. Putting a heavy cloth in the vise, lock the rifle upside down in the vise by the action. (don't squeeze like you are tying up the Battleship New Jersey, firm is fine)
At the felt tip mark on the barrel, go to the bottom side of the barrel and cut a groove across the bottom with the round file. Go only as deep as one-third of the file at it's deepest point. Be sure this is at the same point on the forearm....replace the rifle barrel in the vise with the forearm. At the corresponding mark on the forearm cut a groove in the bottom of the barrel-well, the same depth as the barrel. These two groove together will allow the piece of drill rod to fill them. (cutting the groove inside the forearm can be with your electric drill and small round nose router bit, sold at Ace Hardware type stores) When that drill rod is epoxied in place on the forearm... it will fit into the barrel groove and hold the forearm in place at recoil.
The take your hunk of drill rod and cut a piece that will fit the cross groove in the forearm...fit it to the rifle to be sure the two grooves and the drill rod piece line up... you will most likely have to take a little more wood or steel out to get the 1/4 inch drill rod to fit. Once you have a firm but not tight fit, then epoxy the drill rod into the forearm. When dry reassemble the rifle. You have relieved all the pressure points. Because the drill rod is at the chamber end, where it is thick and less movement occurs, it doesn't affect the accuracy but holds the forearm in place.
The last accuracy item is important....no accuracy is worth crap if the trigger is rough and gritty on the let-off. It is worth the cost of a GOOD gunsmith to tune the trigger and set it at around 3 1/2 pounds. That makes the difference between a snap shot hitting a bouncing deer and not hitting .... it really does when you have practiced with the new trigger. Even a heavy trigger that breaks CLEAN is better than a gritty light let-off.
(from Paco Kelly's LEVERGUNS - An American Heritage, chapter 23)