Written by Greg Herbert
“I just drove 800 miles to shoot 3 rounds; you got to be kidding me!”
On the heels of the NRL Owens Armory Sickness for Distance match outside Kingman Arizona came the JC Steel Target Challenge Washington match with cooler temperatures. The weekend before the temperature was in the 90s. At the Arizona match, I noticed I was having issues with some of my brass. On day 1, shooting off a barricade I had a case have head separation. What happens is the thickest part of the case, the base, pulls off from the rest of the case leaving half the brass in the rifle’s chamber. This usually happens because of too much pressure and old work hardens brass. The weekend prior I was in Cody Wyoming and the temps were in the teens. I guessed my load was too hot for the hotter temps, so to be safe I dropped my power charge down a couple of tenths for the Washington match.
Another Stuck Case
Day 1, stage one, shooting of the rock pile I made 3 impacts and then I could not chamber another round. Being on the time clock, the stress level soars as the issues arise. I was doing the flight of the bumblebee dropping mags, pulling spare cartridges from my 2 round holder, removing my bolt and after peering inside my barrel there it was… another stuck case without a head! I waved off the stage to the RO and began attempting to remove the stuck brass from my rifles barrel. Everyone was willing to let me use the various items in their packs for the attempt. Normally when the case cools down it will shrink in size and can be removed with an oversize brush, like a pistol cleaning brush. Not this time. The thoughts that were going through my head were, “I just drove 800 miles to shoot 3 rounds; you got to be kidding me!” It was going to be long weekend watching everyone shoot this match.
A Man with an Awesome Mustache
I gathered up my gear and headed towards my truck racking my mind on how I would be able to remove the stuck case. I found Jake Vibert and explained my situation and he introduced me to Greg Beckley, the land owner, where the match was being held. A kind older gentleman with an awesome mustache that was willing to help any way he could. After telling him that I need to remove my rifles barrel and use an easy-out to pull the stuck case he said he had a shop that he uses to fix tractors and farm equipment… Perfect can I use it? His answer was, “Jump in Ill take you myself!” We got in his 1972 Chevy 2500 with a custom 350ci motor which Greg built, no hood and straight pipe sticking up in front of the windshield, loud and very cool. Down the hill we went to the farms shop. I was in a rush because I was missing stages while being away. I explained I need to make a barrel vise to be able to unscrew my rifle barrel. He found some aluminum angle iron and I cut some pieces with a chop saw and put in a steel vice. By leaving my rifle in the chassis and the scope on it was able to use them as handles to break lose my barrel from the action. A little more rummaging around I found a drawer full of threading taps, tap handle, hammers, vice grips and WALLA! Stuck removed! I was over joyed and couldnt wait to get back on the hill, had at least practice shoot the rest of the match, knowing that I was in last place by a mile.
It’s Going to be a Long, Long Day
I found my squad and readied my turn to shoot off from 3 tree stumps. Impact, Impact, Impact 8 times… and then it happened AGAIN. Stuck case in the barrel with the head separated. This time I had tools, clamped on my barrel with Gregs borrowed vice grips and a few raps with a hammer and the barrel spun loose. I went to work with the steel tap, threading the inside of the broken off case, then grabbing onto the tap with the vice grips and hitting it with the hammer, the case popped out. What I noticed this time is that all this messing around driving punches, ramrods, and taps in my barrel it scratched up my chamber really bad and those scratches were grabbing onto the hot fired brass and gluing itself to the chamber wall. It ended up being a long, long day: Shoot several rounds on a stage, then pull off my barrel, remove the casing, reassemble, and go to the next stage. Was it not bad enough that I could not shoot very many rounds, but my rifle was not sighted in each time either! I would ask the ROs where I was hitting after the stage and I would adjust my scope. Interesting enough that after a few time of doing this, I found that if I tightened the barrel to the action, the same every time, I could hit many of the targets until I had another failure.
Back in Business
When I was in Greg Beckley’s shop I notice he had old Victory machining lathe built by W.H. Landereth right in the local town of Ritzville, Washington for the war effort. Gregs father acquired the lathe after the war and uses it from time to time to make farm machinery parts. I needed to smooth my chamber to my gun and answer from above he was willing to let me use it. This thing it belt driven and looks more like a cotton-gin than a lathe. I chuck up my rifle barrel with no way to indicate center bore. Set back my recoil lug shoulder some guessed amount, faced off the end of the barrel and recessed the bolt nose area. I head spaced the action using the shortest loaded round I had as a gauge. Next I polished the bore with scotch bright on a stick and I was back in business. Feeling pretty good about the farm work being done I tested all my ammo sorting out the ones that would fit in the new modified chamber to use the following day.
An Experience that turned out for the Best
The next morning I shot a few rounds and zeroed my scope and shot the whole day without any issues. This is not the experience that I was planning on having at the Washington match but it turned out for the best. I made a new friend, I got to use a piece of history gunsmith on, I had plenty of practice competing a national level match under STRESS, and to top it all off Travis Ishida and Jake Vibert honored me at the awards ceremony for my persistence in finishing the match and gave me a certificate for a Thunderbeast suppressor!
I would like to thank everyone on my squad and others for their help, understanding and support.
National Rifle League Member #216