For a while now I have been stocking and supplying wipeout cleaning products, this came about by me being dissatisfied with the numerous products on the market. Sadly a visit to most gunshops for advice on cleaning a rifle will result in a less than satisfactory experience – this has more to do with the proprietors not knowing what products to use or how to use them as well as not realising that a rifle does need regular cleaning.
Over the years I have tried so many products that I have almost lost count and stumbled across wipeout almost by chance, what follows is a completely true account of how the accuracy of a rifle can be affected by simply cleaning with the correct products.
Around a year ago my stalking partner Derek finally took the plunge into reloading ammunition and we spent many hours discussing what would suit him best in terms of powder and bullet combinations. He decided on a Nosler Accubond 150 Gn bullet with IMR 4320 underneath, I was familiar with the powder having used it myself for a number of years and was familiar with the accubond bullet albeit in 6.5mm so didn’t anticipate too many problems working up a load in .308. Initially I suggest to people to find a powder charge that gives reasonable accuracy, say 1 inch or less groups, and then adjust the seating depth to fine tune the group – I also put the load over a chronograph to measure the velocity just to make sure that the bullet isn’t doing something crazy! This is a fairly simple formula that has yet to let me down, obviously there are other technicalities involved but by and large for the purposes of deer stalking we are looking for reasonable accuracy and bullet performance.
For the first few range sessions we started off with a fairly moderate load and gradually worked up to a near maximum recommended powder charge and found the most accurate load to be 46.4 grains of powder, we then adjusted the seating depth accordingly and found a distance of 45 thousandths of an inch off the lands the most accurate, although not as consistent as I’d have liked. During this time Derek was making small changes between batches, first we discovered that the once fired brass he was using had a heavy crimp which was leading to it binding on the expander ball of the re-sizing die, this had the effect of actually stretching the case on the up-stroke and in effect lengthening the case causing too little headspace, luckily Redding dies are equipped to be able to remove the expander ball and we continued. Derek then made the decision that full sizing was preferable for him in his hunting ammunition just to make sure that there would never be a chambering issue so we changed from neck sizing to full length sizing, all this time the groups were not improving dramatically and we were still achieving less than consistent results. Finally I got him to stop tinkering and stick to a repeatable and consistent reloading pattern – once we had that we could continue.
By now we had a load that would shoot around an inch or so, not fantastic but good enough for deer. Now, I am happy to sacrifice some accuracy for bullet performance but what we were achieving with Dereks’ load I was far from happy with and I could sense some despondency creeping in, one minute he’d come to the range and shoot a sub 2cm group then come back with a new batch and shoot a 2 inch group – obviously we were missing something, but what? I’ve yet to have a rifle at the range that I couldn’t get to shoot, only a shot out Sako, but I was now getting a bit concerned – here we had a Mauser M03 in 308 with a Solid barrel (slightly heavier than standard), there must be something else I’d missed. Perhaps it was simply a case of the gun not liking a particular bullet, so we changed to a Nosler ballistic tip and ran the same routine and still we got nowhere, then I changed the powder for a slightly faster one, tried both bullets and still no major change.
Two weeks ago we were almost at breaking point when I noticed the slightest ding in the end of the moderator, perhaps there was some internal damage causing the inconsistency, it would certainly answer a lot of questions so I gave Derek some factory ammo to try, unmoderated it shot a reasonable group then a poorer group with the moderator, that was it then, it had to be the mod – that evening when we left the range we honestly thought we’d cracked it, it had to be the moderator. The following day Derek rang me, it wasn’t the news I was hoping for, the moderator was fine. He’d taken it to a well respected rifle smith and had it inspected internally added to which the rifle smith then started talking about case volumes between loads, work hardening of the brass, neck concentricity, powder burn length in the barrel, atmospheric conditions, the price of fuel, the cost of living, the state of the roads etc etc etc. Dereks’ head was now spinning as was mine, this was F class stuff not shooting a consistent 1 inch group! So with that I picked up the phone to two more people who could maybe shed some light on the problem, Aftab at Reloading solutions and Simon Lawrence of Lawrence Precision moderators. Both agreed that we had to start from scratch and rule out as many potential problems as possible – Aftab suggested starting over with an unmoderated rifle – Derek wasn’t keen, more for his dogs hearing than anything else, Simon suggested the same, that would at least rule out the moderator, the rifle thread and the moderator thread. However, they both also mentioned something else, something I had until now taken for granted – the internal state of the barrel – considering how much wipeout I sell and how many times I lecture people on the need to clean their rifle, I’d never done that with Derek, I’d always assumed that he maintained his rifle properly and the few passing comments that were made between us always led me to believe that this was the case, so after I had finished with Aftab and Simon I rang Derek and quizzed him about how he’d been cleaning his barrel. He answered that whilst it hadn’t been cleaned for a while he had cleaned it fairly regularly up till then so at this point I wasn’t terribly concerned but still suggested that a thorough clean would at least rule out another issue.
The following day we were both eager to get to the range, Derek had brought everything, well everything that wasn’t already in the Land Rover! We had decided to use factory ammunition for a start, I had also managed to borrow another moderator with the same thread just for comparison. The barrel had been scrubbed with a carbon remover and then a copper remover – I’d rather not name brands here but the patches were coming out clean so it was obviously clean – can you see where this going?
First we shot unmoderated 3 shot groups, the groups were nothing special, an inch and a half at best (they were also very low and don’t show on the photos so you’ll have to take it from me). We then put the original moderator on and shot two three shot groups allowing the mod to cool between groups, we then shot two four shot groups with the new moderator (Derek thought he’d pulled a couple of shots). To cut to the chase, all the groups were crap – 2 inches! This wasn’t a good start and I could see the look of a haunted man creeping into Dereks’ eyes – would I have a second hand Mauser to sell? I then asked him about the cleaning again, “did you use the Wipeout I gave you?”. “No”. Well, we were clutching at straws so out came the cleaning kit and we got stuck in with the wipeout and accelerator – what came out of the barrel shocked us both, the photos tell the story. Basically for the next hour we repeated the process until the patches were coming out clean, this was on a barrel that was supposedly clean and had a total of 20 shots through it – there is absolutely no way that the barrel was completely free of copper when we started. After much cleaning and coffee we deduced that the moderator made no difference so we would start shooting with it fitted, we would shoot one group of three shots with each moderator and see what happened – a picture tells a thousand words!
The first group had 1 shot an inch low then two touching, we then swapped moderators and it shot a sub 1cm group, we then swapped back to the original mod adjusted the scope 2 clicks right and shot a sub 2cm group! I was speechless, Derek was speechless, the sun came out, the birds sang – for the last year we’d been messing around trying everything we could think of to fine tune a load when all that was needed was a proper clean with the right products, Ive since found out that the product Derek was using to scrub the copper out actually etches copper, it also etches steel!
These are the two three shot groups shot with the old moderator before cleaning (top left). The two groups in the centre of the target are the two groups shot with the old moderator after cleaning, the first from a squeaky clean barrel (1 inch low) the next two touching, the three shots in the centre of the target are after adjusting the scope.
Bright blue – there’s copper in them barrels! This was coming out of a supposedly clean barrel, this was prior to shooting the tight groups. It goes in clear and comes out blue for copper, brown for carbon – could it be any simpler?
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