Sunday, April 27, 2014

Range Day: 115-year-old Marlin in 32-20

Saturday was a great day at the range! I have a Marlin Model 1894 rifle in 32-20, of 1899 manufacture (SN: 18xxxx). 32-20 ammo isn't something you just find on the shelf these days, so part of the fun of this rifle aside from the living history aspect is the load development.

32-20 round for Marlin Model 1894
This was my first time putting a load together for this caliber, let alone this rifle, and my starting point was derived from Wet Dog and others over at the forum and at the CastBoolits forum.  I started out with Starline brass, and picked up some 120gr cast bullets in .313 diameter from Missouri Bullet Company. Add in some CCI primers and some powder and you get the round pictured to the right. Cute little guy, eh?

I created three sets of 15 rounds, each at 4.5, 4.8, and 5.0 grains of Unique respectively. 

Now, I know.. this is above Unique's own limits for their cowboy loads. It's a hot load, and normally I wouldn't ever pull a stupid trick like this for a first load. However, enough people subscribe to this 4.5-5 range in older Marlins that I took a gamble. This is one of those things every book warns you against doing, you never think you'll do, but then one day you see yourself doing it. Though the world didn't end, I regret doing it for the very principle of the matter. Safety demands adherence to principle and that's that. Add in that this isn't just any old rifle, and it was irresponsible of me. 

This was my first time shooting the gun, so my focus was less on the load development and more on the gun performance and behavior. I picked this rifle up from a 'walker' at a gun show a few years ago. The barrel was as dirty as sin and that's often a sign that somebody's trying to hide something. The real fear was that the rifling would be shot out, the bore pitted, and anything fired out of it would just tumble downrange. But I couldn't resist the piece in front of me - the furniture matched and looked original, the sights, butt plate and all other pieces looked right, screws weren't marred too bad and the action was fine. As it turns out, after a good scrubbing the bore showed some pitting, but the rifling was intact. It made me very curious how it would perform at the range.

Lever-action goodness
Well, I'm happy to report that.. I'm pleased. Not ecstatic, but pleased. The gun placed the rounds pretty consistently, thought at both 50 & 100 yards, my shots were all to the right and I'm not sure I can blame any wind. Hey, as long as it's consistent, that's something I can address. 

Additionally, while no extraction issues were experienced or pierced primers were seen, pressure rings on the brass showed up at the 5-grain mark. I'm not surprised by that - as I've chastised myself above, I regret not starting lower at about 3 grains. For my next loads I'll back the pressure off and begin again at a gentler starting point.

The good? The trigger broke like glass. I was surprised by this and loved it. Combined with the negligible kick from the 32-20, it was a real pleasure to shoot. I really look forward to the next session with this gun, where I'll bust out the chronograph, use some lower-pressure loads, and a lot more of them. One's affection for old guns is touched off when in your hands, but the bond really develops when you cradle it up and get down to business.

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