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I finally got one of my project guns finished! I think this one has been cooking on the back burner since Christmas or thereabouts. I didn't have it in me with the torn up shoulder to finish it myself, so I enlisted my buddy over in Mobile at Custom Gun Coatings and Repair. I realized I didn't have the ability to wrestle the barrels off and on (I made an attempt) right after surgery. I just loaded everything up from aftermarket recoil lug to a Go-gauge and a bottle of MarineTex for the bedding with detailed instructions to my friend- "Here, fix it." I actually did need some semi-gloss black Cerakote, so Johnny was a one-stop shop.

I had hoped I would have a beautiful, lightweight hunting rifle capable of sub-1/2 MOA groups. Ode to Meatloaf: 2 out of 3 ain't bad. With the first 3-shot group to exit the muzzle this early afternoon after a single fouling shot to determine my manual bore sighting had it 1 1/2" high and 7" left, I proved it a 1/2 MOA shooter. That load used 40 grains of Norma MRP in an ADG new case under a 78 grain Barnes TSX seated .050" off lands with Federal 210 Match primers. No pressure whatsoever and a beautiful 1/2" group @100. Also, it is a beautiful gun. As a testament to this, the firing line ceased firing and everyone gathered around my bench at the opening of the case inquiring about its origins and chambering. However, it is NOT light! I have the smallest contour barrel made by Criterion for Northland Shooter's Supply, and it is still probably 8 1/2 pounds at least. It is noticeably heavier than the Sauer 101 .300 Win Mag. It reminds me a lot of the nicely figured CZ 557 I brought home momentarily a couple years back in the looks:weight ratio.

For a quick rundown, it was purchased as an older beautiful Savage Model 11 .308 with DBM and nice bluing plus Accu-Trigger that I tuned to 2 1/2 pounds. To that action was fitted a sporter weight 24" Criterion pre-fit barrel chambered in .22 Creedmoor with 1:7 twist. Headspacing is held to a minimum (about .0015"). An E. Arthur Brown Precision ground oversized recoil lug was added and everything held in place by a stainless multi-flat Patriot Valley machined barrel nut. Boyd's Stocks came through again on an absolutely gorgeous piece of furniture with 1" Pachmeyer recoil pad and laser fluer de lis full wrap scale engraving for a sure-handed purchase in inclement weather. The detachable magazine was nixed in favor of a stiffer blind magazine design. The plastic trigger guard was upgraded to a metal version also from Boyd's. Finally, Johnny Cerakoted the metal surfaces for me in a semi-gloss midnight blue, which is nearly indistinguishable from factory bluing except it won't rust or patina in the years to come. The bolt, trigger shoe, recoil lug, and barrel nut were left bright stainless. Johnny had to do a small amount of milling to get the Patriot Valley nut to fit the Boyd's stock, and some elbow grease was required to get the barrel to free float, as the taper starts out a bit thicker than most sporter weight barrels and makes a straight taper down to around .600" or so. This is why I prefer using Criterion barrels other than you just can't get any more accurate for any amount of money. It's much easier to fit the barrel channel exactly to a straight taper design. Finally, the MarineTex (gray) epoxy makes the perfect bedding job. The entire action from recoil lug to tang is bedded to make a rock-solid foundation for the action. Tru Oil goes in the sanded barrel channel to prevent moisture from causing any point-of-impact shifts. This is even more critical on hardwood stocks that aren't laminated.

A couple years ago, I could pull off a build like this for pocket change under $1000. Now, I have about $1375 into this one, and that's only because the rifle with the donor action and the stock were purchased before the big price hikes of recent months. Part of that money is labor I paid Johnny to do some of the work I could have done myself if I had been able- about $150. Figure $1225 plus inflation at today's rates, and the minimum cost for a do-it-yourself custom of this type is about $1500. The Boyd's stocks have gone up nearly $100 unless you get the bare-bones model with no engraved grip surface and a pretty useless hard recoil pad they call 1/2", but is more like plywood and is actually only about 3/8". It's there for looks only. With a bare-bones stock, factory lug and barrel nut, no Cerakoting, and doing it all yourself, you can probably do one of these for around $975 if you have the headspace gauge, barrel vise, and action wrenches. All of that is about $300 in a one-time cost to get you going if you have a table or bench to mount the vise on. The $975 gets you the basic Boyd's stock, a bargain basement (probably used) action or donor rifle, the Criterion barrel, and a small MarineTex kit, which is not negotiable for savings. Personally, I wouldn't build one without an aftermarket recoil lug and barrel nut upgrade for about $80 more by the time you pay to have them shipped in. I could have gotten by without the $30 upgraded recoil pad on a .22 Creedmoor ($34 now), but I want to know I at least have a part that's functional.

So what other bells and whistles can be added? Fancy wood, a complete trigger replacement (Rifle Basix is the way to go on Savages!), a Kick-Eez pad for about $65, walnut or black polymer forend and grip caps with or without white line spacers, custom length of pull (mine is the standard 13 3/4"), front pillar installed, and of course muzzle threading with brake install, and barrel/bolt fluting. You can conceivably spend right at $4000 on a Savage project if you wanted to put a Proof carbon wrapped barrel or fluted Patriot Valley pre-fit on and have XX Circassian walnut with grip cap and forend upgrades. You could also have the action trued, which I've never needed to get better accuracy than I'm capable of. No need to spend the extra $500 on other barrels because none of the "top tier" models will be any more accurate than a $300 Criterion pre-fit. Just don't count on them staying at $300! There is something to be said for designing and building your own rifle. It adds an element of pride and confidence in the tool that makes it all worthwhile. And when you cause a pile up at the firing line at the local range when other shooters file to your bench to see what you've uncased, you can't help but feel a sense of pride in your own workmanship and design.

Now a bit about the cartridge. Unbeknownst to me, the .22 Creedmoor is not new. As a matter of fact, it has been around long enough to have major manufacturers build brass, dies, and other tools for it. A Google search reveals articles being written on it back in 2014. Some say it's a passing fad. Some say it's a great varmint cartridge. I will be using it pretty much as a dedicated deer rifle. Besides the Barnes 78 grain TSX bullet, Hornady makes a GMX without the polymer Tip they market to law enforcement at 70 grains. I have some 73 grain Hammer Hunters on the way that I plan on using as the mainstay. There are also 75 grain Swift Sciroccos if you can find them. It would be great if Nosler would make an 85 grain Partition in .22 cal, but they can't supply the things they do make already.

I have no idea how fast the Barnes was flying today. I had no data for most of the powders I used to make groups to try. I didn't even trim brass or uniform flash holes in this batch. Sources I've read say to use magnum primers, but their data don't support this. Published numbers with other powders and bullet combinations show the extreme spread and standard deviation of velocity nearly double when magnum primers are substituted for standard ones. The gain in velocity is only 25 ft/s and the corresponding pressure increase is 1500 - 2000 psi. Much is written about the use of H1000 and Reloader 26 in this little cartridge. The line of thinking is that magnum primers will more consistently ignite and burn these slow powders. The cartridge is overbore, true enough. It probably isn't as bad as the 223 WSSM, however, which, I believe, operates at an even higher max average pressure than the Creedmoor and holds a couple more grains of powder. The only reason I didn't make a 223 WSSM instead is because nobody chambers it in pre-fits, and Winchester is the only company that ever made brass for it. Some of the best brass makers make 22 Creedmoor brass, including Alpha Munitions, Hornady, Peterson, and what I'm using - ADG (Atlas Development Group). And if you can't find any from any of these makers, it is easy to find 6mm Creedmoor brass with large and small primer pockets from Hornady, Starline, Peterson, Alpha, ADG, and Lapua. You can even use 6.5 Creedmoor brass, but you'll need more tools and have to go through more steps. I have a good supply of Lapua small rifle primer brass on hand that I've necked down and loaded to see how it fares against the ADG.

To form it correctly, you will need to either use a bushing die to size the neck or remove the expander/recapping rod from the sizing die, then run the expander ball through the neck after it is sized. If you don't do it in this order, you may get a case stuck in your die because, even with dry lubricant inside the necks, the expander is almost impossible to pull out from inside the case. You are making the neck wall thicker by sizing down. You have to exert undue stress, and you will impart runout in the case neck where none previously existed. (In other words, it's a good way to turn a premium piece of brass into a very mediocre one!)

I suspect that with my 40 grains of Norma MRP and 78 grain Barnes TSX with standard large rifle match primer, I'm probably cruising somewhere around 3200 - 3350 ft/s (probably nearer the slow end). It could be slightly more, but I doubt it. And I doubt even more if it's less. My chronograph has been on the fritz, so I ordered a new one that should be here mid-week. Maybe next weekend I can verify velocities. I really don't want to run this much more than about 3300 - 3350 ft/s unless longer range shots are expected. I don't think the 24" barrel is hurting me much on velocity because of the smallish volume I'm burning (although it is relative to the bore size).

I don't feel like optimum velocity is obtained at H1000 and Reloader 26 burn rates with this cartridge. The loads are compressed before the full potential is achieved. Neither do I think the most common loadings of 4350-esque powders are optimum either because the design is too overbore. I think the Holy Grail lies somewhere in between. Probably a little north of 4831, but a little south of Reloader 25. There isn't many powders covering this area, especially since there is no more Accurate 3100. Some that fit this niche include MRP, IMR4955, Reloader 22 and Reloader 23, 4000MR (though it is shown on the new burn rate charts below 4350, I know it to act like a much slower burning propellant. It was initially listed above Reloader 23, and I find I can generally take a Reloader 23 load and add a grain more to get the equivalent 4000MR load. Also in there is Vihtavuori N560, N165, N170, and N565. Magpro could work, but it's up pretty near the Reloader 26 rate. Superformance may be about perfect except I've rarely gotten good groups with it or similar powders designed purely for speed, such as Hybrid100V and the latest version, called StaBall. Had they not quit making Winchester 780 Supreme, it would be top notch, also. I still have some in the cabinet, so I may give it a shot (pun intended).

I do hear some saying they are finding good accuracy with StaBall, but so far, I'm not one of them. At any rate, I know there was NO pressure on the case at 40 grains of MRP. I can increase if desired. Personally, unless it turns out to be a 3100 ft/s load, I see no need to increase. Or I could just change the primer, but all the negatives associated with doing that were discussed. It would be a viable option for ranges inside 200 yards, though. 39.5 grains of Superformance might be the speed champ of this cartridge/bullet combo.

I have some 88 grain Hornady ELD-M bullets, which are the exact ones Criterion throats their pre-fit chambers for. I tried loading some, but came out with a big groove pressed in the J4 jacket above the ogive where there is no lead underneath. I have on order a seating stem made especially for this bullet and other similar ones that will prevent that from occurring. Reports are coming in that this 88 grain match bullet is a real deer slayer, but I have a hard time firing a bullet at an animal that bent being pressed into the case.

Just for fun, I am going to get the remnants of my supply of Accurate 3100 and Winchester 780 Supreme and see how these work for this bullet and cartridge combo. I believe their burn rate to be as ideal as ideal can get. Because they are both ball powder, the requisite amount can likely be loaded before compression occurs, as with Reloader 26 and H1000. When the lighter Hammer Hunters arrive, they will be better suited for the Superformance/IMR4955/4831/Hunter/RL19/N160/StaBall genre of powders. Terminal performance of the Hammer bullets are suppose to be 2nd to none, but 73 grains is already light, and when the nose fragments leaving a square-nosed base, I am wondering how well a mere 50-ish grain remnant will penetrate causing catastrophic shock. I would be more comfortable with 85 - 90 grains that mostly stayed intact.

Next up is the .270 SDC - another Creedmoor variant. This time necked up and modified to better handle lighter-for-caliber bullets up to 130 grains. I have all the pieces either on hand or on order. It will be built on a Savage Axis platform which has some key advantages. First, some weight savings. Second, a cheaper donor. Third, no epoxy bedding is required, though a very small amount may be used around the sides if the action depending on stock fit. Fourth, no aftermarket recoil lug is needed. Fifth, it will look way cooler finished out. Accuracy is generally about as good as with the standard Model 10, 11, etc. action, but could potentially give up a tad in this area. The project should be finished by August 1.

Good shooting to everyone!


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