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Thread: 1895 Winchester 30-03 excessive headspace and fireforming

  1. #1
    Boolit Bub
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    1895 Winchester 30-03 excessive headspace and fireforming

    I have a neat old Winchester 1895 in 30-03 caliber. From what I have read, the only difference between the 03 case and the 06 case was neck length. When I first got the rifle, I tried 30-06 in it but only a couple of rounds since the primers were backing out about half their thickness and it made me nervous. I took the rifle to a gunsmith to have him check the headspace and the rifle easily chambered the no go and field gauges. He said no worry as he had an adjustable micrometer type gauge. After several tries and having the gauge at its maximum length, we were still not able to measure headspace! So somewhere in excess of .035".
    So, I acquired a small amount of .280 Remington brass and opened the neck up to .30 cal. The empty cases chambered just fine in the rifle. I had some 215gr lead bullets with gas checks and have loaded them into the cases with 12.5gr Unique. I wanted to load them long so that the bullet touched the rifling and closing the action would force the bullet into the case a bit and keep the base of the cartridge tight against the bolt face. It seems that is not possible as the loaded cartridges are at the max length to fit into the open action and the action will close easily without changing their length. There is maybe just .125" of bullet in the case neck so not even possible to make them longer.
    So my question is, do you think what I have now will fire form to eliminate the headspace issue? I am going to the range tomorrow to try them.

  2. #2
    Boolit Master
    Bent Ramrod's Avatar
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    I imagine you’ve found out by now, but headspace issues in lever actions are not uncommon. The 1895 was more massive and more precisely fitted up than some of the others, but the .30-03 and -06 (and the 7.62 x 54) were about at the limits, even for it. Those long bolts and the pounding they got would shorten them a little. A friend had a Russian 95 that would partially open on firing. There’s a headspace problem to make one nervous!

    If the crush fit with the boolits trick doesn’t work, you could expand the neck to .32 or .35 caliber (or get some .35 Whelen brass), anneal it and gradually neck size it back down to .30 caliber until the action just closes, load and fireform. That should push the rest of the shoulder fully forward.

    The late Ken Howell made up a series of “commonsense wildcats” that seemed, from his descriptions, to be made on slightly lengthened .30-06 brass. He seemed to imply that the brass was available. You might try searching for “.30 Howell” and see if you can find any. If they were .30-03 length, you would be all set. Ken’s old posts should still be on 24hr Campfire.

  3. #3
    Boolit Master

    texassako's Avatar
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    I would fire form some cases with cream of wheat and a fast pistol powder instead of a bullet, along with using the false shoulder Bent Ramrod mentions above.
    Back in the land of boolits.

  4. #4
    Boolit Master

    Wayne Smith's Avatar
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    Do as Bent Ramrod said- it's exactly the same process as firing a standard round in an AI chamber.
    Wayne the Shrink

    There is no 'right' that requires me to work for you or you to work for me!

  5. #5
    Boolit Master





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    I would have the barrel set back and re-chamber the gun to 30-06 setting it back will allow you to do this. It is not like a 30-03 round should find its way into it.

    A good smith can do this easily for you.

  6. #6
    Boolit Bub
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    I took the rifle to the range today and shot my 18 reloads of 12.5 grains Unique and a 215 grain cast bullet in .280 Remington cases. Shot real low at 50 yards and while I didn't bother with a paper target, most of the clay pigeon pieces did not survive. The first shot was with a case that had a dent in the shoulder that did not come out but the primer stayed where it is supposed to. One case split its neck - this is previously fired brass that was given to me and supposedly once fired but I don't really know. The primers stayed put in all of them but I do not know if the shoulder bumped out or not or if the extractor simply held the case tight to the bolt. When I make it to the reloading room, I will find the the 30-06 case gauge to see if the shoulder has moved or is different then a 30-06 case.
    I have the ability and the equipment to set the barrel back myself but but so far have decided not to add it to my long list of gun projects.

  7. #7
    Boolit Bub
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    It appears that the shoulder did not move forward at all. In fact when I drop a fired case in the gauge, it is maybe .025" (a guess) below the surface of the gauge. It doesn't make sense. I'm not sure what I may have done wrong and pretty sure I just neck sized the cases but will try again. Maybe switch to another powder like bullseye or up the charge a bit? This is my first time attempting this kind of thing. This evening I annealed the case necks and will load them again in the morning.
    Last edited by Gazz; 11-07-2017 at 12:07 AM.

  8. #8
    Boolit Master

    Wayne Smith's Avatar
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    Don't load them. Expand the necks to at least 8mm, take one and gradually size the neck until the bolt closes on it. Size the rest of them to this. Now load to a normal light load and fire. As I said - the same procedure as firing a normalized case in an AI chamber - you can do it with a factory load.
    Wayne the Shrink

    There is no 'right' that requires me to work for you or you to work for me!

  9. #9
    Boolit Bub
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    I started this project years ago and may have done something like that with the cases since the bolt would not close on the empty case. I used the .30-06 cal sizing die and adjusted it until the bolt would close so along the same lines as you are saying. I do have some 8x57 dies that I could borrow the expander from. AI = Ackley Improved?

  10. #10
    Boolit Master elk hunter's Avatar
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    When you get your brass formed be sure to slug your barrel. I tried .308 bullets in my 30-03 and the results were dismal to say the least. Turns out my barrel is .304 x .312 when I went to .312 bullets I could shoot groups instead of shotgun patterns.
    Last edited by elk hunter; 11-08-2017 at 03:27 PM.
    BIG OR SMALL I LIKE THEM ALL, 577 TO 22 HORNET.

  11. #11
    Boolit Bub
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    So I used an 8mm expander on the case and then ran it into the 30-06 die to neck just enough of the neck, maybe .080" or so to hold the bullet. It took some extra force to close the bolt which seemed to indicate this would work. I shot it and looked at the case to see the primer had backed out maybe .025" or so. Brought it all home and dropped the fired case in the gauge to see it fall below the surface. It seems that the firing pin hits with enough force to drive the case forward till it stops on the shoulder and then ignites allowing the primer to back out. Guess I do have to add this one to my list of gun projects!

  12. #12
    Boolit Man

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gazz View Post
    So I used an 8mm expander on the case and then ran it into the 30-06 die to neck just enough of the neck, maybe .080" or so to hold the bullet. It took some extra force to close the bolt which seemed to indicate this would work. I shot it and looked at the case to see the primer had backed out maybe .025" or so. Brought it all home and dropped the fired case in the gauge to see it fall below the surface. It seems that the firing pin hits with enough force to drive the case forward till it stops on the shoulder and then ignites allowing the primer to back out. Guess I do have to add this one to my list of gun projects!
    There's another fireforming procedure that involves a few grains of Bullseye, the rest of the case full of a buffer, and no bullet. I've done this, forming .300 H&H to .300 Weatherby, and it worked pretty well. Got the recipe from a gunsmith way up North, and long ago: 15 grains of Bullseye, and fill up the .300 H&H case with millet meal. Point the rifle up, explain to your fellow shooters that you're not being an idiot, there's no bullet -- and fire away! A few of the fired cases were just a tiny bit short, which suggests that I could have used a little more powder, but why push it? Loading and firing them as normal will bring the case length up to spec.

    There are a couple of differences between your project and mine, that you'll need to consider. The .300 H&H / .300 Wby headspaces on the belt, so I didn't have the problem of cases getting away into the front of the chamber. But you might have an answer to that. (Something bigger than 8mm?) My rifle was a Weatherby Mark V, so after the first shot worked, I didn't worry too much about chamber pressure. (In fact, the whole point of the exercise was to hit the brass hard enough to make it flow, and quickly, because when I had tried to fireform using a "normal" load, it just tore a big hole in the shoulder.) Your rifle is a lower pressure design, so you'll need to take that into account.

    And where in heck do we get millet meal these days?

    Anyhow, I don't think you're out of options. Good luck!

  13. #13
    Boolit Bub
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    Thanks for that idea. I don't have any millet meal but I think I have some corn meal! I do have some .35 Whelen dies but I think that may be to much as there is some force required to close the action when the cases are expanded to 8mm. I'll give the food stuff load a shot in the morning.

  14. #14
    Boolit Master

    Wayne Smith's Avatar
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    Yes, AI = Ackley Improved
    Wayne the Shrink

    There is no 'right' that requires me to work for you or you to work for me!

  15. #15
    Boolit Man

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gazz View Post
    Thanks for that idea. I don't have any millet meal but I think I have some corn meal! I do have some .35 Whelen dies but I think that may be to much as there is some force required to close the action when the cases are expanded to 8mm. I'll give the food stuff load a shot in the morning.
    Whoops, forgot to mention: 15 gr Bullseye was okay for .300 Wby, but for .30-03 / .30-06 you'd want quite a bit less. (No, I don't have a number. Think hard, and be careful.)

    Since you have .35 Whelen dies, you might try expanding your case necks up to .35 and then running the cases into a .30-06 die just far enough so they'll chamber. With the corn meal trick, you wouldn't have to worry about whether there was enough case neck to hold a bullet, there's no bullet.

  16. #16
    Boolit Bub
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    I believe opening the necks .35 and necking down to .30 until the empty case will chamber - did the trick but one mystery remains. I did one case loaded with the 215gr cast bullet to see if it would work and the primer did not back out. So I am happy with that. The mystery is that when the fired case drops into my case gauge, it is slightly below the surface and I would expect it to be a bit above since it is the shoulder I am moving out. There looks to be a slight change in the angle of the shoulder though.
    My next question is since this method seems to produce a case that looks to be safe, can I go straight to jacketed bullets for my fireforming operation? I am planning to hunt this rifle on Saturday and need to pack and about a hundred other things before I leave so I need to pare down the list. At this point I am thinking that the rounds as loaded above with 180gr round nose jacketed bullets will also be my hunting round as well as the fireforming load. That is if the rounds will shoot a good deer killing 3 shot group. Any comments?

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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check