Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

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Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by mickb » 12 Jun 2019, 8:48 pm

Just some questions and musings out loud on the requirements for this. Not everyones style of hunting but some of the hunting I do around towns or on farms where folks don't want to be disturbed a 38-45 cal cast load or HP handgun type projectile is often the go, if its recreational and silencers are not approved. Ranges are usually under 50 yards, sometimes out to 75, some tracking can be required. And yes a cast bullet through medium game, will kill it, if you do your part,.

I am not an expert in lever guns btw, have only owned a couple, but learnt a small bit around this type of hunting by necessity.A couple of things I have run into follow. More experienced ever gun users correct me where I am wrong or add whatever where needed. Interested to compare notes.

Firstly to keep noise down you run the low handgun type charges of fast burning powder. We are talking 3,4,5, 6 grain loads of As30N, bullseye trail boss etc and stay under 1100fps. While a carbine barrel adds 400-500fps over a full strength pistol load from a 357 or 44, with these light powder loads the increase of the barrel length is much less. I have found about 100-150fps increase over published handgun loads when light loads are used at some point the longest barrels may even be slowing bullets down some. If you load too light, you can have issues with squibs or non-exits. The cowboy action shooters are the master of light loads in lever actions, however they are not concerned with terminal performance or hunting accuracy.

At low velocities like this obturation can be an issue. Jacketed bullets on the other hand, with decent loads of powder cram into the rifling with all their mighty pressure behind them, allowing good obturation and decent accuracy potential. With cast loads apart from the issue of leading etc, matching of the bore to the bullet can help reduce groups, with cast bullets generally suggested to be 1 or 2 thou wider.

The guns using a shorter case as well( 38special in 357, or 44 special in 44 rem) may have feeding difficulties but can usually be worked out tweaking loaded length and projectile shapes etc. Also you will get crud in the chamber from firing the shorter case in it that needs to be looked after. One thing I have always wondered is whether other users find accuracy is less when using the shorter case in the longer action?

A side note is the variation in lever gun bores is sometimes dissappointing to me.I get that the action is not the most rigid type and having the tube hanging off the barrel won't allow these guns to be tack drivers. But no reason the have the barrels varying several thou like they do.

With light loads, its also helpful( I think) to ensure twist is satisfactory. Stabilisation relates to bullet length, twist and the velocity. Increasing velocity increases bullet RPM and accuracy in a lot of cases. The issue is with guns like the marlins and Rossi 92's with their very slow 1:30 or 1:38 twist rates (which they obvioosly chose with the fast loads the action is capable of. in mind) at very low velocities particularly with the heavier bullets you want for penetration, there may be issues.

The last issue is powder position sensitivity. With small charges in the long archaic pistol style cases( 38 sp, 357 mag, 44 sp, 45 colt) etc 4-5 grains has a lot of room to move around. I am not sure whether innaccuracy is down to any of the above factors moreso than this, but the handgun experts tell me it can have an impact on shot to shot velocity and point of impact.

So to get an accurate subsonic pest thumper, and do it right, to the lever action experts here my thoughts.

1.Just buy any gun and see how it goes. Worst case slug bores and tweak soft cast bullets to match it.

2. Or buy donor gun, add barrel of precise dimensions and twist of your choice to eliminate 2 of the above issues. Worthwhile doing or waste of that $1000 odd fitted?

3. Use a bolt action version of these cases doing away with much of the lever actions innaccuracy. Unfortunately it already exists in the form of the Ruger77's and they seem to have as many accuracy problems as lever guns?

4. Get custom option made chambering 9mm or 45ACP(bolt or lever) for barrel of choice, better accuracy, better loading densities in their short cases. Big dollars?

Not trying to cure cancer here, just a few musings on a specific type of shooting.
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by bladeracer » 12 Jun 2019, 10:45 pm

Personally I wouldn't use a lever-rifle. Subsonic bullets work very well, but as you are stuck with such velocity, accuracy becomes more important. I have a good accurate subsonic load in 8x57mm with a 180gn cast bullet, and very quiet. The same can be done in .303, .30-06, etc.

I have subsonic loads in .38 Special and .44 Magnum levers but they lack the accuracy of jacketed bullets.
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by mickb » 13 Jun 2019, 3:20 am

Id agree bladeracer regards accuracy potential but I find the 10-20 grains you need to load in a bottleneck centrefire a large step up in noise.
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by bladeracer » 13 Jun 2019, 5:59 am

mickb wrote:Id agree bladeracer regards accuracy potential but I find the 10-20 grains you need to load in a bottleneck centrefire a large step up in noise.


9.5gn of Trailnboss in the 8x57mm, and 8.0gn in 6.5x55mm drives a 95gn VMax subsonic in my M38. I'm using 7.5gn behind a 250gn cast bullet in .44 Magnum for 1000fps. .38Sp though only needs 4.5gn behind 158gn cast bullets.
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by bigrich » 13 Jun 2019, 8:50 am

bladeracer wrote:Personally I wouldn't use a lever-rifle. Subsonic bullets work very well, but as you are stuck with such velocity, accuracy becomes more important. I have a good accurate subsonic load in 8x57mm with a 180gn cast bullet, and very quiet. The same can be done in .303, .30-06, etc.

I have subsonic loads in .38 Special and .44 Magnum levers but they lack the accuracy of jacketed bullets.


Very interesting, I bin thinking about a 358 Winchester project, but 8x57 is very similar and a old milsurp isn’t a bad idea. 180 gn 8 mm lumps of lead are a interesting load
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by mickb » 13 Jun 2019, 9:30 am

bladeracer wrote:
mickb wrote:Id agree bladeracer regards accuracy potential but I find the 10-20 grains you need to load in a bottleneck centrefire a large step up in noise.


9.5gn of Trailnboss in the 8x57mm, and 8.0gn in 6.5x55mm drives a 95gn VMax subsonic in my M38. I'm using 7.5gn behind a 250gn cast bullet in .44 Magnum for 1000fps. .38Sp though only needs 4.5gn behind 158gn cast bullets.


You can get down to 2.5 grains in 38 special with 158 grain bullets and 4-5 in the 44 rem for 200-220grains and these will still kill, 800-900fps loads.

The other advantage of the pistol calibres comes into play with their bigger bullet diametre.

A subsonic 38 special cast bullet while no powerhouse is still a bonafide mankiller( or medium sized hog!). Its as low as I personally go for bodyshots. A 6.5 will be cutting holes not much bigger than 22LR target ammo.
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by mickb » 13 Jun 2019, 9:31 am

bigrich wrote:
bladeracer wrote:Personally I wouldn't use a lever-rifle. Subsonic bullets work very well, but as you are stuck with such velocity, accuracy becomes more important. I have a good accurate subsonic load in 8x57mm with a 180gn cast bullet, and very quiet. The same can be done in .303, .30-06, etc.

I have subsonic loads in .38 Special and .44 Magnum levers but they lack the accuracy of jacketed bullets.


Very interesting, I bin thinking about a 358 Winchester project, but 8x57 is very similar and a old milsurp isn’t a bad idea. 180 gn 8 mm lumps of lead are a interesting load


The 323 and 358 calibre bullets would be effective killers I think.
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by bladeracer » 13 Jun 2019, 11:13 am

mickb wrote:You can get down to 2.5 grains in 38 special with 158 grain bullets and 4-5 in the 44 rem for 200-220grains and these will still kill, 800-900fps loads.

The other advantage of the pistol calibres comes into play with their bigger bullet diametre.

A subsonic 38 special cast bullet while no powerhouse is still a bonafide mankiller( or medium sized hog!). Its as low as I personally go for bodyshots. A 6.5 will be cutting holes not much bigger than 22LR target ammo.


I've been down to 2.2gn with the 200gn jacketed but they were running out of steam halfway down the bore, 3.0gn is right on the limit as I still had one stop at the muzzle. I wouldn't go below 3.5gn behind a jacketed 200gn bullet in a 24" tube.

For subsonic hunting loads, because I'm governing the velocity to around 1080fps, I like to go as heavy as possible in soft lead to maximise the energy. My Uberti helps with its 16"-twist barrel, but most .38-cal lever-rifles seem to be much more relaxed and struggle to run even 180gn bullets. I wouldn't use the subsonic 6.5x55mm load for anything bigger than foxes as it's basically an FMJ at that speed. A 170gn soft cast bullet would be a much better choice for hunting in the 6.5x55mm.
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by in2anity » 13 Jun 2019, 11:51 am

how about a 300blk like the ruger ranch? or the new howa mini 300blk? 1:7 handles up to 220gr.

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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by bigpete » 13 Jun 2019, 3:26 pm

bigrich wrote:
bladeracer wrote:Personally I wouldn't use a lever-rifle. Subsonic bullets work very well, but as you are stuck with such velocity, accuracy becomes more important. I have a good accurate subsonic load in 8x57mm with a 180gn cast bullet, and very quiet. The same can be done in .303, .30-06, etc.

I have subsonic loads in .38 Special and .44 Magnum levers but they lack the accuracy of jacketed bullets.


Very interesting, I bin thinking about a 358 Winchester project, but 8x57 is very similar and a old milsurp isn’t a bad idea. 180 gn 8 mm lumps of lead are a interesting load

I'll let you know in a couple of weeks lol
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by mickb » 13 Jun 2019, 3:27 pm

in2anity wrote:how about a 300blk like the ruger ranch? or the new howa mini 300blk? 1:7 handles up to 220gr.

lucky13.jpg


Certainly doable and fun. For what I am after, 300blk needs heavier charges and is a smaller calibre than most pistol calibres. Also the pistol calibres generally have bullets that expand at very low pistol velocities, aka getting a .45 up to 70cal mushroom at 875fps and decent 12-14" penetration. With rifles or solid cast loaded down you are usually left with bullet diametre holes, and while a 30cal will kill( a 22 LR will probably kill after all), 357 is my minimum for non- expansion.

A lot of the US hunters who shoot a lot more stuff than us with pistols( since they can hunt with them directly) generally concur. 38 for small/medium, and 40+ for medium/large. A lot of it is armchair BS, but hey thats what we post for right :)
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by mickb » 13 Jun 2019, 4:20 pm

bladeracer wrote:
mickb wrote:Y


I've been down to 2.2gn with the 200gn jacketed but they were running out of steam halfway down the bore, 3.0gn is right on the limit as I still had one stop at the muzzle. I wouldn't go below 3.5gn behind a jacketed 200gn bullet in a 24" tube.

For subsonic hunting loads, because I'm governing the velocity to around 1080fps, I like to go as heavy as possible in soft lead to maximise the energy. My Uberti helps with its 16"-twist barrel, but most .38-cal lever-rifles seem to be much more relaxed and struggle to run even 180gn bullets. I wouldn't use the subsonic 6.5x55mm load for anything bigger than foxes as it's basically an FMJ at that speed. A 170gn soft cast bullet would be a much better choice for hunting in the 6.5x55mm.


Bladeracer how do you find accuracy loading the lighter charges in the guns. Do you find major velocity variations, stringing, weird groups or other problems due to powder positioning in the cases? I had been meaning to ask some 38 and 40+ cal pistol target guys more about this side of things as they are shooting them the most, but had not had the chance.
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by in2anity » 14 Jun 2019, 9:01 am

mickb wrote:
in2anity wrote:how about a 300blk like the ruger ranch? or the new howa mini 300blk? 1:7 handles up to 220gr.

lucky13.jpg


Certainly doable and fun. For what I am after, 300blk needs heavier charges and is a smaller calibre than most pistol calibres. Also the pistol calibres generally have bullets that expand at very low pistol velocities, aka getting a .45 up to 70cal mushroom at 875fps and decent 12-14" penetration. With rifles or solid cast loaded down you are usually left with bullet diametre holes, and while a 30cal will kill( a 22 LR will probably kill after all), 357 is my minimum for non- expansion.

A lot of the US hunters who shoot a lot more stuff than us with pistols( since they can hunt with them directly) generally concur. 38 for small/medium, and 40+ for medium/large. A lot of it is armchair BS, but hey thats what we post for right :)


A quick google search will reveal 30cal jacketed pills actually designed for subsonic expansion for example https://projectilewarehouse.com.au/prod ... 2154239619. In reality they will perform just as well on game as any medium-weight, slow moving lead projectile, with the added benefit of a higher bc (and obviously inherently better accuracy spitting from an acceptably bedded bolt gun). And in my personal experience hard lead projectiles punch holes instead of stopping.

Don't let me talk you out of your build however - I'm a huge lever fan (and always will be) - I'm just playing devil's advocate. You could most definitely achieve your goals out of a lever, just in a less efficient manner (the way i see it). In any case, new projects are fun :drinks:

With respect to powder economy, the powder cavity of a 300blk seems about on par with the 357 - I don't understand your statement "300blk needs heavier charges". Just tip in full case of TB and be done with it. TB is cheap. Basically, any straight-wall with a larger powder cavity than these will eat more powder will it not?
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by mickb » 14 Jun 2019, 1:37 pm

in2anity wrote:
A quick google search will reveal 30cal jacketed pills actually designed for subsonic expansion for example https://projectilewarehouse.com.au/prod ... 2154239619. In reality they will perform just as well on game as any medium-weight, slow moving lead projectile, with the added benefit of a higher bc (and obviously inherently better accuracy spitting from an acceptably bedded bolt gun). And in my personal experience hard lead projectiles punch holes instead of stopping.

Don't let me talk you out of your build however - I'm a huge lever fan (and always will be) - I'm just playing devil's advocate. You could most definitely achieve your goals out of a lever, just in a less efficient manner (the way i see it). In any case, new projects are fun :drinks:

With respect to powder economy, the powder cavity of a 300blk seems about on par with the 357 - I don't understand your statement "300blk needs heavier charges". Just tip in full case of TB and be done with it. TB is cheap. Basically, any straight-wall with a larger powder cavity than these will eat more powder will it not?


Its all good mate and I appreciate people searching options to check out :thumbsup:
The nosler I doubt expands at the low powered pistol speeds aka the 800-875fps range mentioned. Theres a difference between subsonic and low powered subsonic ,I should have clarified this is my main aim. Only a few things work this low. several pistol bullets get 50,60, 70cal mushroom at 850fps with the advantage of less powder/noise.

Stopping game- at these speeds not the aim, its more like archery kills, which is still valid. Personal preference for me if the bullet wont expand is drill vitals with 357 and up.The yanks tend to concur,- whether its a proven difference between 357 and 30, hard to say.

BC doesnt matter too much at these velocities, even a pistol bullet only loses about 1fps per yard, or 80-120fps over 100 yards. As such they are all making it to hunting ranges of 75-80 yards without much difference. The short stubby bullet with better calibre/expansion characteristics and less bore drag( less powder needed) has more advantages for me.

The 300 BLK is a bit less capacity than 357 and probably similar to 38sp yes. However as mentioned bore friction from its long bearing surface bullets and the less efficient case means its starting loads are going to be higher. I don't think you will get as low as you can with a 38, 357( eg 2.2 grain loads) and probably even 44 and get reliable exits. A moot point for general shooting, but keep in mind for quitest shooting 'filling up a case with trailboss' could be twice the powder I am aiming for. I will clarify I have not looked deeply into 'micro loads' for the blackout. Its more the low calibre, I discarded geting a 25-20 and 32-20 for the same reasons.

A short stubby case in a bolt action I would be interested. 9mm has about half the case capacity of 357, should be less powder position sensitive with tiny loads. The benefits of a low powered pistol cartridge are basically the same reason they came into being. Short wide cartridges and bullets, perfect shapes for low powder charges. That ruger btw id add a 20-22" barrel, muzzle pressure and noise will be high for this category with the short barrel and no supressor.

Its all splitting hairs of course, anyone only shooting high power is thinking wtf is this guy going on about?? I the sport is more low subsonic than as I called the thread, just regular subsonic, and like any sport it can become extreme :D
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by in2anity » 14 Jun 2019, 3:03 pm

What's the auditory difference between ~1100fps and ~800fps? Is it a logarithmic or more linear decrease? Is there any actual data out there about this subject?
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by mickb » 14 Jun 2019, 3:16 pm

in2anity wrote:What's the auditory difference between ~1100fps and ~800fps? Is it a logarithmic or more linear decrease? Is there any actual data out there about this subject?


I'd have to google it in2anity, not sure of the figures. Its quite noticeable to me. The lightest loads of 38 which still exit barrels are burning less powder than a 22LR stinger for example, and without that supersonic crack (pulling stingers apart they average about 2.5 grains of an unknown powder).

The yanks get into this more than us, again they are hunting with pistol cartridges and also they have the suppressor guys all trying to go quieter than one another.

To be honest I am not actually a huge fan of lever actions myself. However they were the only easily affordable carriages for pistol cartridges and what I wanted to do. Wanted to have a chop at a ruger 77/357 but the accuracy reports seemed more hit and miss than lever actions. Thanks again for the post though on the 300blk and the nosler bullet, I am doing some more research on it now.
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by in2anity » 14 Jun 2019, 3:39 pm

mickb wrote:Wanted to have a chop at a ruger 77/357 but the accuracy reports seemed more hit and miss than lever actions.

Yeah they are a cool little concept. I almost bought one a while back. They're a two piece bolt aren't they? I think people shim them to tighten up the headspace. also i'm not sure if the barrels are free-floated - if not, they may still be accurate, perhaps just not as consistent (for punching paper). i bet they'd still be precise enough for 2-3 cold-bore shots. :unknown:
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Re: Setting up an accurate lever action for subsonic loads

Post by bladeracer » 14 Jun 2019, 10:10 pm

mickb wrote:Bladeracer how do you find accuracy loading the lighter charges in the guns. Do you find major velocity variations, stringing, weird groups or other problems due to powder positioning in the cases? I had been meaning to ask some 38 and 40+ cal pistol target guys more about this side of things as they are shooting them the most, but had not had the chance.


I've seen no accuracy problems at all using TB, and I use it in everything - .204 to 8x57mm, and .38 Sp. and .44 Mag. It's bulky so while a 3gn load of AR2205 or AP70N might leave a large air gap, a 3gn load of TB doesn't, TB is three times the volume of most normal powders.
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