Paper Patched Observations at the 2008 American Creedmoor Cup

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Written by: Dan Theodore

American Creedmoor Cup > Three Successful Loads

This past week [2008], a coterie of hardy souls attended the American Creedmoor Cup (ACC) at the Ben Avery Range, 23 miles north of the I-17 / I-10 interchange located in Phoenix, AZ.  This particular 2-day BPCR long-range match (800, 900 and 1,000 yards) is unique in the USA that no coaching is allowed once the competitor hits the target while shooting sighters.  Only 2 more sighters are allowed after hitting the target for the first time whether they hit the target or not before the competitor must go for score.  And, each shooter has only 20 minutes to fire sighters and 10-shots for record so waiting for a condition is not a workable option most of the time.  This is a real rifleman’s game where one must turn the windage and elevation knobs quickly and precisely to stay in the game.

Six intrepid paper-patch (PP) bullet shooters bellied-up to the proverbial bar and let fly with bullets similar to those shot 130 years ago at the original Creedmoor range.  We modern paper-patch match shooters are climbing the learning curve one shot at a time and one match at a time, some with a bit more success than others.  But, several of us are making good headway in long-range BPCR matches using PP’ed bullets. 

The conditions, during the 2-day match, were at times quite trying, especially from the 1,000-yd line Friday afternoon.  This shooter had full left in, 30 MOA, and was shading the bullseye from touching the front sight aperture at 3 o’clock on the inside to touching on the outside of the aperture for shots fired during maximum wind pickups.  The match on both days had wind that was typically a fishtailing tailwind that changed very quickly; death to scores especially when no coaching is allowed.

Several competitors did well with their paper-patched bullets: Jim Dorell, Bob Engelbach and Dan Theodore.  One consistent theme for all three of us was that our rifles produced fine confetti, as a result of the patches tearing into small pieces, with each shot.  Doc Lay commented that Bob’s muzzle blast made a nice smoke plume filled with little bits of paper.  Jim was shooting a 45-70 John Bodine Pedersoli which has a choked barrel; the better to tear the paper-patch.  Bob’s rifle sported a gain-twist barrel, also great for tearing the paper-patch.  My 45-90 is fitted with a 16-twist Badger barrel that has a choke lapped into it.  I don’t believe any of the three of us had paper-patch-induced flyers during the match.

A few of the other paper-patch shooters faced daunting challenges during the match.  At the extreme; not a single bullet hit the target on the first day of the ACC for one of our intrepid PP compatriots.  We all felt his pain.  But, he was a true sportsman and soldiered on with nary a whine and stuck by his shooting partner during the NRA LR BPCR Regional on Saturday and Sunday.  A lesser man would have high-tailed it out of there. 

After discussing the events of the day with him earlier and several other paper-patch shooters during an informal “show & tell” in our hotel lobby, it was obvious what one of the problems was with that particular bullet.  The nose design produced a very high drag that could possibly have made the bullets tumble at longer ranges.  It was 82 % of caliber 1/2 caliber back from the nose tip, too large for good long-range stability.  Optimum diameter range would be between 50 % and 60 % of caliber at 1/2 caliber back from the nose tip or at the transition from hemispheric nose-tip to the ogive radius like on the Paul Jones “Money Bullet.”  Even though the load used had been tested at 670 yards and showed promise, from the 800-yd line the load was off the proverbial rail.  When things go wrong from the long-lines, they go wrong in not so subtle ways at times.  Another issue that likely played a part in the lack of accuracy was that our intrepid marksman had double patched his bullets; two 2-layer patches for a total thickness of 0.0180″.  At this point, in climbing the learning curve concerning developing match-grade accuracy when shooting PP’ed bullets, I believe the excess paper wrapped around the bullets was causing some, if not all, of the wild flyers.

This writer must admit that he was bummed that 1/2 of the PP crew at the ACC had such daunting challenges.  All I can say is, “Here’s to your courage in sallying forth to work at reviving this unique aspect of the BPCR match shooting sports.”  Don’t give up guys!!! 

Another dedicated PP shooter had a bit different challenge.  His load would group and then produce a low flyer.  Jimbo Terry and I pulled his target during the ACC.  On the first day of The Cup, his load was producing about 30 % short flyers that would send a shower of dirt and small rocks into the butts.  Some were even shorter with no dirt shower.  I’ve seen this phenomenon before; caused by inconsistent paper-patch release from the bullet upon exit from the muzzle.  It is believed to be the root cause of the short shots.  To achieve match-grade accuracy when shooting PP’ed bullets, the patch must come off the bullet as it exits the muzzle; consistently, shot after shot.  Any exception will probably produce a flyer to a lesser or greater extent.

After going though a “lessons learned” discussion or two and attempted diagnoses of the underlying problems with both of those loads, we decided to see if we could learn a bit more during the second day of The Cup.  Both aforementioned PP shooters pulled enough bullets from their ammo and replaced them with my bullets to shoot one yard-line each on Friday.  The Paul Jones “PP Money Bullet” bullets in question have a shank diameter of 0.4460″ and are wrapped with 0.0016″ thick tracing paper.  The first shooter also used my wiping technique to see if that would also offer some accuracy improvement: two damp 2.5″ diameter cotton patches pushed through by a 45-cal Tipton Nylon rifle brush attached to a Tipton graphite cleaning rod followed by one dry patch of the same diameter.  The damp-wiping solution was 10 % Napa water soluble oil and 90 % distilled water.  The first shooter shot the Paul Jones bullets from the 800-yd line Friday morning.  His modified load produced no flyers and a fine score except for a last-shot miss that was just inches over the target at 12 o’clock.  He had the windage nailed, but that pesky, fish-tailing tailwind that caused more than a bit of consternation and grief for the ACC marksmen got him for sure as it did most of us during the match.  I believe if the bullets could have been seated out appropriately, only 1/8″ in the case, the modified load would have shot even better.  He shot his regular PP load at 900 on Friday with the modified wiping technique.  His original load definitely shot better with fewer flyers using the modified wiping technique.  As a matter of fact he put three consecutive shots into a group about the size of a fist, but it was just over the target at 12 o’clock and was then followed with a rascally low “dirt” shot.  It seems that the modified wiping technique did improve his loads’ performance even with his bullets.  Certainly, the use of the PJ “PP Money Bullets” improved his ammo’s performance.  The second shooter shot the Paul Jones bullets from the 900-yd line with results similar to the first shooter’s; no wild flyers and improved accuracy.  Those were some tough lessons learned, but ones not soon to be forgotten by any of us.

To reiterate what I’ve written and said previously, there seem to be several fundamentals that should be followed if one is interested in match-grade accuracy in BPCR long-range matches when using PP’ed bullets.  They are:

  • Choked barrels tear/cut the patches more consistently than non-choked barrels.
  • Gain-twist barrels also work well at tearing/cutting the patches.
  • Total patch thickness should be less than or equal to the barrel’s groove depth to enhance paper tearing/cutting.
  • Shorter patches (patched only on the cylindrical shank portion of the bullet) tend to produce better accuracy than longer ones.
  • Bullets should be seated well out into the lands of the barrel for enhanced bullet-to-bore alignment when using bore-diameter bullets.
  • Bullets that are snug in the bore tend to produce better accuracy.
  • Appropriate wiping technique should be employed to insure a consistent coefficient of friction between bullet and barrel in all temperature and humidity conditions.

Visualize if you will a PP’ed bullet exiting the muzzle.  At the instant the bullet base clears the crown, all of the paper-patch should be completely off the bullet.  If it is not, a flyer is likely to occur.  Quite a bit of discussion was undertaken by some of The Cup marksmen, paper-patch and grease-grooved users alike, concerning why the paper was not coming off some bullets in a consistent manner.  It would seem, to the casual observer, that the high speed air moving over the bullet from its forward motion would rip the paper off the bullet upon its exit from the muzzle.  My current thinking is that when bullets spin at high rotational speeds and are moving forward at high speeds non-intuitive things happen to the paper-patch, caused by the airflow around and over the bullets as they start their journey down range.  A 45-cal bullet exiting the muzzle at 1,350 fps is spinning at 54,000 rpm when launched with an 18-twist barrel.  That high rate of spin drags air around the bullet due to surface friction.  The airflow from the bullet flying down-range streams over the air dragged around the bullet due to its high-speed rotation.  The interaction between these two air flows might act to hold the patch on longer than one would intuitively think if it is not appropriately torn and/or cut as it exits the muzzle.  When the paper-patch does not instantly depart the bullet upon its exit from the muzzle, aerodynamic drag must increase and thereby slow the bullet more than usual, which in turn causes the bullet’s short impacts.