December 2001

Firing Line: 12/01

.348 Winchester Followup
I was thoroughly enjoying the May 2001 issue of Gun Tests, when I read the following quote in your article on Monster Handguns: “The .500 was based on the .348 Winchester case, supplies of which were drying up a few years back. However, with Buffalo Bore churning out good loads in good brass for the .500, and with several new rifles chambered in .348 Winchester on the market, the brass supply problem is gone.”

This last line cause me to stop in my tracks! I’ve been shopping for a reasonably priced Winchester or Browning model 71 for years. Most of the good Winchesters are priced beyond my means, and I’ve have never laid eyes on a Browning of recent manufacture.

In all the gun rag magazine articles about what’s new in 2001, no one mentioned any new rifles in .348! So, please tell me, who is making these new rifles chambered for the .348 Winchester?

-Pete MacMahon
Soddy Daisy, TN

I checked my references, and discovered that time has flown. Around 1990 Browning made a limited production run of a copy of the Winchester 71 in .348 caliber. These had 20 or 24-inch barrels, and there were two grades offered. These were apparently excellent quality, and would be well worth pursuing. This is the rifle in my memory as being recent, per a conversation I had with a handgun manufacturer in 1996. I’m sorry to have misled you. What to me seemed “recent” took place much longer ago than I realized, and I didn’t know Browning made only a short run of them. You might check Gun List if you haven’t done so.

-Ray Ordorica


No Shotgun Complaints
It was very interesting to me to read the letter in the November 2001 issue regarding the use of shotguns and lead shot in the military. His comments about the Germans having been the only ones to have complained about their use falls in line with my own experience. During the Korean War, sorry, The Korean Police Action, I was with the First Battalion, Seventh Marines. At night we would place men well forward of our lines to act as a listening post in to detect any North Korean or Chinese movement. Quite often they would spot an enemy patrol approaching our lines and alert us to the probable destination of the patrol. We in turn would rush to greet them by setting up an ambush with several Model 97 shotguns loaded with lead double ought buck. We would allow the members of the opposing team to pass through us before closing the trap and eliminating the patrol. Not one was allowed to return to his lines.

Can you imagine what that did to the morale of his unit? Who would want to go out the following night to play with the Marines? And, by the way, none of the enemy soldiers involved ever complained about our use of lead shot.

-Arthur J. Weisberger


Pricing, Power, Pistols
I just finished reading your September 2001 issue, another winner, and decided to make a few comments. First, I am pleased to see some trends in your policies. One is to give price difference a consideration when comparing firearms. You used to just pick the best gun, often on small differences, even if it cost two or three times what a comparable, adequate firearm cost.

An $800 gun should be better than a $400 one. Now you seem to factor in the price difference. I like that. Also, I used to think you were too tough when you would fail a piece because of a problem that could be easily rectified. Now I agree. When you pay $500+ for a firearm, it should work. That’s what they have quality control for. I notice magazines that take advertising seldom, if ever, fail a gun. They always make an excuse for problems.

Responding to some readers’ comments, I agree that the power/weight factor has gotten out of hand. I find about 25 ounces the minimum for control and comfort of major calibers: .40, .357, .45, and such. I have many handguns in many weights and calibers, including 4 Kel-Tecs (now there is a gun that is a value for the money, with great customer service back-up), and I find them all fine to shoot except the .40, which is a beast. We carry it sometimes, because of its power and capacity, but we practice with the 9mm!

As to the reader’s comment that magnum barrels start at 4 inches, I often carry a S&W 640. I find that its small size, reasonable weight, predictable trigger, rounded contours, and stainless construction make it the most practical concealed weapon I own. I prefer my custom .45 Defender for firepower, and familiarity from practical pistol competition, but the 640 just disappears under anything. I shot a perfect score with it on the state concealed weapon course. The magnum barrel length comment applies here. I get 400+ ft.-lbs. from WW Silvertips and Federal 125-grain Classics, on my chronograph, from its 2.25-inch barrel. Yes, I see more velocity and power with longer barrels, but I can’t see giving up that power to drop to .38s. So there is a place for short magnums, but I sure don’t want one that weighs 12 ounces.

Oh, by the way, when you compare power in pistols, like you did in the recent .357 SIG article, please use modern +P loads for my beloved .45 ACP chambering. I find 430+ ft.-lbs. (3-inch barrel) and 510+ ft.-lbs. (5-inch barrel) to be available from several major commercial suppliers. This is a gun and cartridge that just gets better with time.

-Frank Allen
Greenville, SC


Ammo Confusion
Volume XIII, Number 11, page 20 implies that you can shoot .22 Long Rifle ammo in .22 magnum chambers, although it would be a bad idea because of chamber deposit build-up. Now, we all know it’s worse than that. The case of the smaller ammo will likely split if fired in the magnum chambers. That’s why Ruger and others supply cylinders chambered for the specific ammo to be used. This is probably an issue that could have been avoided with a little more care in editing, and we all need to be aware that not everyone who reads this publication is as technically proficient as us “gun pros.” Yeah, I know, I’m being picky, but as an NRA-certified instructor I just hate it when “we” present info that might be misleading to the beginners among us. You normally do such a fine job of being clear and concise, I just thought this was worth mentioning.

-A.R. (Dick) Rinehart
Walton, KY


Fire-Lapping Flaws?
Just read your review of fire-lapping: Now for the rest of the story.

(1) Throat Erosion: You either did not take measurements before, during, and after, or if you did, chose not to report your findings. Speaking from personal experience, I can guarantee a lot of erosion resulted. Probably the equivalent of firing several thousand rounds.

Firing only 20 rounds with the 600 grit from the Wheeler kit (purchased from Midway), and taking measurement with the Stoney Point Chamber OAL Gage, showed an increase of 0.075 inch in one of my factory .223 barrels.

(2) Velocity Loss: I saw between 150 and 200 fps, tested across my chronograph, with the same .223 barrel. At least part of the reason your lead slug became easier to push down the bore was because the bore was now 0.309 inch or 0.310 inch. Fire-lapping will increase bore diamter, causing a loss in velocity.

A Remington 700, (not mine), .308 did an honest 2650 fps before fire-lapping with the NECO kit, and now produces 2440 fps with the identical ammo. The Sierra 168 MatchKing can no longer be seated to touch the lands—it now has 0.145 inch of “jump.” Yes, the Remington is easer to clean, and the groups are around 1/2 inch smaller at 200 yds. If a barrel is fouling heavily with copper, and it’s not the typical rough factory bore, it’s probably just plain worn-out. The solution: re-barrel.

Some bores can be hand-lapped, (Hart provides this service for around $40 to $50 less than the cost of a NECO kit) if the bore is not overly rough, and no damage will result since this is the same process used in finishing the match after-market barrels.

The .223 was returned to the factory, and a new barrel was installed under warranty. To their credit, the factory agreed the barrel was “below standard,” and should never have been shipped.

The new barrel is very good—almost as smooth as my Hart (22-250), Krieger (AR-15), and Shilens (6 PPC and .243). Copper fouling is minimal and easily cleans out with regular Shooters Choice, not the copper solvent. Groups are holding close to 1/2 moa at 200 yds.

Fire-lapping will result in throat erosion and a larger bore diameter/loss of velocity. Fire-lapping may produce smaller groups and make the barrel easier to clean from the build-up of copper fouling. Would I ever fire-lap another barrel?

Absolutely not!

If fire-lapping were so great, all the barrelmakers would use the process, rather than spend hours of time-consuming hand-lapping.

-Frank D. Shuster
South Park, PA

I did in fact measure the bore by slugging before, during and after the fire-lap operation, as indicated in the article. I found that, per NECO’s instructions, it was possible to remove metal with the coarsest-grit lapping material. I found that the finer grits did no measureable metal removal, and I could easily see the polishing effects of the progressive fire-lapping on the various bores, as reported in the article.

I have no experience with the Wheeler kit, but from your numbers I suspect there was entirely too much use of the coarsest grit. The NECO instructions warn against the overuse of the coarse grits, and specifically recommend against their use on high-quality barrels.

Our lead slug became easier to push down the bore because of greater regularity in the surface of the barrel, not because of an increase in the bore size, which we monitored every five shots. It took quite a few rounds of the coarsest-grit paste to get a noticeable increase in bore size, but yes, it does happen. In fact, the bore becomes slightly tapered from breech to muzzle, which some say is ideal for best accuracy.

I liked the fire-lapping process so well that I used it on a single-action Colt that had a slightly rough bore with a tendency to lead. Fire-lapping cured that problem.

Because of your severe bore-size increase and throat elongation, plus major velocity loss from your stated minimal fire-lapping, I suspect you or your acquaintances were doing something drastically wrong.

-Ray Ordorica