|April - May 2002
Volume 37, Number
A couple of Model 94 Winchesters represent the nearly 7,000,000 rifles shipped since 1894. Whitetail deer photo by John R. Ford. Rifle photos by Gerald Hudson. Purchase the CD-ROM here
Remember, by the rules of
aerodynamics, a bumble bee cannot fly. We begin with this seemingly unrelated thought so
when I say things that seem incredulous - things like, for less than 50 bucks you
can shoot 28-gauge shells in your 12 gauge, with perfect success, you wont
laugh and rip up your magazine before you read the next sentence.
Trust me, I almost laughed at the
fellow who suggested his product would accomplish this feat. In truth, it was only the
mention of West Point and its shooting team that kept my attention. Stay with me, what you
are about to read is truly amazing. So riflemen dont feel left out, we have
discovered an almost equally wonderful way to have very reduced power with a selection of
bullets and powder charges to delight any handloader.
Lets begin with the rifle
conversions. While they are wonderful and surprisingly versatile, they are easier to
believe than the shotguns to come. I covered the subject of subcaliber inserts in the May
2001 issue of Rifle (No. 195). Generally, the inserts we talked about there used various
handgun ammunition in selected rifle calibers. Here with the Hammond Game Getter, we have
a system that is more or less a handloaders proposition - handloading,
that is, in the sense that you have a choice of four powder charges and you
add your own bullet.
The history behind these is
interesting. Mr. Hammond is a sheep hunter from Canada. Sheep hunters spend a lot of time
in little tents eating freeze-dried food. Now freeze-dried is not bad stuff, in fact, I
actually like it. Grouse and rabbit, however, are better. While living in the States, Mr.
Hammond had a .22 pistol, a more or less perfect answer to the gourmet dish called grouseforsupper.
Unfortunately, Canada takes a very dim view of handguns. To that end the Game Getters were
created, the first for a .270 Winchester.
The essence of the project begins
with a cartridge case for the given caliber. A steel insert is made the same size as the
case head but without a primer pocket. This insert replaces the web section and rim and is
chambered for .22 rimfire. The chamber is quite eccentric, so the rim of the
rimfire ends up in the center of the case. With this, the normal centerfire firing pin
hits the rimfire in the correct place to set it off.
No, we do not use .22 rimfire
ammunition and try to make it go around a corner. Instead the chamber is for Power
Loads. These are the blanks used in power nail drivers. They are specifically
designed to act as a power source to drive various projectiles into wood, concrete or even
steel. Thus, they are perfect for driving little chunks of lead out a rifle barrel. The
ones I find most often are by Remington and are available in most hardware stores. They
come in four different power levels, with #1 Gray being the mildest and #4 Yellow the most
Bullets are also simple and
interesting. Now we are able to use what I see as the ideal short-range small game bullet,
a roundball. If we look at the spectrum of shotgun shot, buckshot and balls for
muzzleloaders, we see there are few calibers that want for a bullet. Further, each Hammond
Game Getter comes with a little sizing die that is designed to size roundballs to a
perfect fit in any given caliber. For example, No. 4 buckshot fits .22 calibers, No. 3
works in the 6mms, 0 or 00 is correct for .30 caliber. Larger calibers begin to use
the various calibers of muzzleloader roundballs; or in the instance of .35 caliber, 000
buck is about right. By the way, Hornady makes a complete spectrum of buckshot and
muzzleloader balls. From its selection you can find a bullet that will fit almost any
rifle. If you like economy, five pounds of buckshot is a lot of bullets! In .30 caliber,
thats about 650 of them for less than $15. After the initial cost of the insert,
shooting is very inexpensive.
My Game Getter is for my .303
British and I found, not to any great surprise, that the roundballs gave me some of the
best accuracy I have ever experienced from a converter. The set came with the
sizer to reduce 0 or 00 buck down to about .312 inch. With sized 0 buck and the #2 Power
Loads, velocity was about 700 fps and groups were in the one-inch range at 25 yards.
Moving up to the #3 loads increased the velocity almost 150 fps and cut the group size to
regularly under an inch and at times as small as 1/2 inch. These were fired with a post
front and aperture rear sight. The next load was with Hornady .310-inch balls for
.32-caliber muzzleloaders. These were fired without sizing and gave me the best accuracy
of all. With the #2 loads it was not unusual to have a cloverleaf with all the
holes touching. Another load used .320-inch balls and the #3 loads, but this time we let
the rifle do the sizing.
Normally a bullet of the correct
size for the bore is a gentle thumb-press fit in the case neck. (If the neck expands and
does not hold the balls properly, you can resize it in a standard die.) The .320-inch,
oversize bullets will not go all the way into the case neck. Instead they press in just
short of their equator. When they are fired, the larger ball centers itself in the rifles
throat and then is sized down to a perfect fit in the barrel.
This plan, in my rifle, gave
outstanding accuracy with absolutely no muss and fuss. Also, there was no worry about
expanding the case neck too far to properly hold the bullet. For other calibers and the
oversize-ball concept, it will only be necessary to be sure the ball diameter is less than
the outside diameter of the case neck. This dimension is usually between .020 and .025
inch greater than the bullet diameter. The self-sizing loads were the second most accurate
in my rifle. Groups were about 1/2 to 3/4 inch. Any way you slice it, it provides plenty
of accuracy for short-range small game hunting.
Performance in other calibers and rifles
should be similar. As the bore diameter increases, the velocity from any given load will
decrease. As an example, Hammond suggests you can expect about 1,000 fps from a #2 load in
a 6.5x55 and 600 fps from the same load in a .375 H&H.
In my trials with the .303, I found
the #1 loads were a bit soft and the #4 certainly too powerful. The little loads were
almost totally silent but seemed to lack enough punch to be effective much beyond 20
yards. Number two loads were about perfect and should easily thump a rabbit or squirrel
out to 50 yards. The #3 loads started to be a little troublesome. They would expand the
case neck a little and also required my knife blade to extract them from the case, where
the #1s and #2s could be extracted with fingernails. The #4s wrecked accuracy, leaded the
barrel, expanded the neck and stuck tightly in the case.
A note about case neck expansion:
The adapters are designed to hold the ball or bullet in the case neck. If the neck expands
so the bullet falls into the powder chamber part of the case, it should not be fired.
Instead, resize the shell before use. The #4 loads might work fine in a .45 caliber but
should probably be avoided in the smaller bores. Remember, this is not about power and
noise but, instead, the lack of both.
For small game hunters with big game
rifles, the adapters become great tools. These offer plenty of latitude for the
experimenter and handloader to tailor loads to suit his rifle and needs. If you want to
use a high-powered rifle as a dedicated small game rifle, you can rezero to fit your
loads. If you are hunting big game, zero with the hunting load and then check the point of
impact with the roundballs. Chances are very good that it will be different, even at close
range - at least grouse-head different. The answer is to do some shooting to see where
the grouse loads hit. Then, you adjust the hold accordingly.
If the versatility of blanks and
roundballs in high power rifle cartridges seems wonderful, the concept of using smaller
gauges in 10-, 12-, 16- and 20-bore shotguns is truly amazing. To set the stage we should
recognize there is another way to get there from here. These are the full-length subgauge
tubes. Those from Briley and Kolar are the most famous. These utilize the
barrel-inside-a-barrel that is complete with extractor and choke. I use these often and
they are wonderful. However, there is a downside. They are relatively expensive, are
generally not available in 10 and 16 gauge, and to my knowledge, they can only be made to
work in break-action (o/u, s/s and single) shotguns.
The product called “Little
Skeeters” is incredibly simple. So simple in fact it is difficult to believe they
will work. In essence they are chamber sleeves. Put another way, they are steel or
aluminum sleeves that are the same size as the shell that normally fits in the gun. To use
a 28-gauge shell in a 12-gauge gun, all you have to do is put the smaller shell inside the
Little Skeeter, then put the composite shell in your shotgun. Of course, that all sounds
good; but we know for certain it is not possible for the 28-gauge wad to seal the bore,
create velocity, and certainly it will not throw a good pattern. Then too, bumble bees
I was skeptical. The test was
relatively simple. To begin we fire at a pattern plate. Wow! Lots of holes, uniformly
spaced holes. The pattern looked as if it came from the intended 12-gauge shell. Recoil
was understandably very mild. My devious mind then turned to the velocity question. One of
the reasons the pattern might still be okay would be greatly reduced velocity. Enter the
great “deliar,” the chronograph.
Chronographing shotshells is a
little more complicated than most rifle or pistol cartridges. There are two basic reasons
you may have trouble. First, shotshells work very close to the speed of sound. At times
chronographs will “see” the sound wave in front of the shot. It will read this
wave, telling you the speed is about 1,200 fps. As an example, I have fired several rounds
of .45 ACP hardball that clocked 1,200 fps, instead of 830 fps. No, we did not defeat the
laws of physics, the chronograph just read the sound wave in front of the bullet.
Shotshells are further complicated by all of their pieces - lots of shot pellets, wads or
pieces of wads, etc. Last, but not least, with the spread of the shot stray pellets are
apt to kill your skyscreens, or in the case of a Chrony, the whole machine.
To prevent trouble and make your
results more accurate, use a baffle in front of the screens. My baffle is a 1x12-inch
board with a 2 inch wide by 4 inch tall window in it. I mount this just in front of the
start screen. The baffle knocks down the sound wave and also catches stray pellets and
pieces of wadding. Incidentally these bits and pieces are apt to have higher velocity than
the main body of the shot and also contribute to false readings. With the apparatus set,
some of the velocities I obtained are listed in the table.
As we look at these results we see
some interesting and informative things. If we begin with the only marginal part of this
program, the .410 shell in 12-gauge guns, the most apparent thing is the low and variable
velocity. This can be explained with two basic components of the combination. First there
is a huge disparity between the wad/charge diameter and the bore. This is further
complicated by the relatively slow and difficult-to-ignite powders necessary in the .410.
Add these together and we have an
admittedly marginal combination. The patterns vary some also. Does the .410 Little Skeeter
make a perfect match in a 12 gauge? No. Does it throw decent patterns and will it break
clay targets? Absolutely. This is all about perspective. From my experience I do not want
to tell you the .410 is perfect. They go bang, shot comes out in a reasonable pattern, but
they are not quite as good as the rest. The reduced and different velocities make hitting
different, even perhaps more difficult than with a “normal” gun.
Moving to the 28 gauge in 12 gauge,
the magic starts to happen. Now we have essentially full performance and uniform
ballistics. Patterns from my tests will be a bit more open than a similar 12-gauge target
load from the same barrel. Yes, the 28-gauge shot does respond to the choke in the
12-gauge barrel. At times we see a few pellets fused together, crypto balling as the
English called it, but that is about the only fault I can find. How is this possible? The
.550-inch shell is being fired in a .729-inch bore.
No, the wad skirt does not expand to
fill the bore. Actually the opposite happens. The gas sealing portion of the wad gets
compressed rather than expanded. The petals of the wad go right out to the bore and may
even be folded backward. Some shot may even end up behind the wad, but the combination of
the shot and plastic do seal the bore. The shot string sets back, becomes shorter and
expands to the full 12 bore. This is why the pattern responds to the choke and bore.
Explaining the almost full velocity
is a little more difficult. The most basic answer is that the pressure in shotshells peaks
very early, while the wad is in the hull. Therefore the shell develops maximum pressure in
the Little Skeeter. Bore friction is reduced. This may help offset the increased bore
volume and the certain drop in pressure as the load enters the 12-bore barrel.
The 20-gauge shells in 12-gauge guns turn a
corner. Now the wads do obturate and seal the bore. We essentially have an “overbored”
shotgun. The results are great patterns and even slightly increased velocity. This
technology has been used for years in sophisticated trap and even waterfowling guns. Stan
Baker began making what he called “big bores” many years ago. They were
effectively 12-gauge shotguns with 10-gauge bores. Modern “back boring” is a
slightly reduced version of the same concept.
At this point we must pause to point
out that, yes, we understand the combination of 20-gauge shells and 12-gauge guns is a bad
one. If you drop a 20-gauge shell into a 12-gauge gun and then fire a 12-gauge shell, or
even a 20 in its Little Skeeter, you will almost certainly blow up the gun. This, like
other endeavors in life, driving a car for example, can be dangerous if you are careless
or stupid. If you use the 12/20 concept, you must be very awake and very careful. You must
think! Simply do not allow a 20-gauge hull, or load, to get into the barrel. Remove the
Little Skeeter each time, punch out the empty with the load you are about to use, drop the
load into the insert, peek in the bore and then load the gun. The problem fits the old
medical situation, Doctor, it hurts when I do this. The doctor replies, Dont
Ten-gauge guns really benefit from
the concept, especially the old doubles with 2 7/8-inch chambers. Basically there is no
ammunition for them. With the inserts you can use either 20-gauge or even 12-gauge shells.
They work perfectly. The 20 gauge in the 10 is almost identical to the 28 in the 12, in
terms of wad action, velocity and pattern performance. The 12s in the 10 are like the 20
gauge in the 12 bore.
The only small glitch I found in the
10 gauge was that the 12 in 10 insert is very thin. They can expand to fill a large
chamber and then fail to fit in another gun with smaller chambers. The answer, if this
happens, is to dedicate a set of Little Skeeters to each gun.
I have not tried the 16- or 20-gauge
inserts, but can say with almost perfect certainty they will work just like the larger
ones. Like the 10, the 16-gauge guns will seriously benefit from the addition of the great
variety of ammunition available in 20 and 28 gauges and .410 bore. Most factory 16-bore
shells are trying to be 12 gauge, which is a mistake. The sweet sixteen is happiest with
an ounce or less of shot and this is a great way to get it.
The origins and primary intent of
Little Skeeters is target shooting. They were developed at the request of the West Point
coach. It seems that guns supplied to the cadets are only 12 bore and small-gauge practice
was almost impossible. The coach asked his friend, who just happens to be a world-class
machinist with a large, very sophisticated machine shop, if he could make some little
inserts that would help. Well, the fellow who actually made parts for the camera that took
the first pictures on the moon was also a skeet shooter. And voila, it worked. Near
perfect scores are the result. The skeet range and, of course, the sporting clays field is
a perfect application.
As most of you know, I am hunting,
rather than target, oriented. I waited for the first of September with great anticipation.
My 10-gauge Purdey was going dove hunting. Weighing 9 pounds with very full chokes sort of
rules it out of the dove class, but dove hunting it went. I missed the first
two. Then we found the swing. The first half of my limit fell to the big 10, five birds
with the next seven shells - 12-gauge shells. We switched to a 12-gauge game gun for the
next half, but a 12-gauge game gun with 28-gauge shells. It worked like magic and hit
about 60 percent, or just above my dove average. On another hunt I shot the first half
with 12-bore shells in this same Rigby and finished with No. 8 1/2 shot, 28-gauge sporting
clays loads. It took one less shell with the 28 gauge than the 12.
On the hunting subject, the
manufacturer recommends that only target loads be used in the inserts. I tried
both the compression formed hulls and even the 28-gauge Reifenhauser hulls with equal
success. The compression formed hulls do extract more easily in most instances. Steel shot
should absolutely not be used because the shot is not held in the shot cup. Loose steel
pellets will contact and probably damage the bore.
There is perhaps one more unusual
thing associated with the Little Skeeters. You may notice more soot and powder residue in
the chamber and even on the breech face than normal. The inserts do not seal the chamber
perfectly, and a bit of smoke reaches the breech. Also, there may be some fouling buildup
right in front of the insert. Most importantly, do not be alarmed, the situation is
harmless. Next, do clean it away from time to time and before you fire normal shells in
the gun. A bit of nitro solvent takes care of it.
Beyond doubles, over-and-unders and
singles, the Little Skeeters can be used in pumps and perhaps autoloaders. I would
personally caution against autoloaders because of the risk of damaging the insert when it
hits the ground.
In the end, if the world
championship were on the line, I would stick with my Briley or Kolar full-length tubes.
However, when it is for practice, or just for the fun of it, for a 10 gauge, or 16 gauge -
or if you do not want to spend the price of a very good gun on your sub-gauge set - these
really work. And yes, look out the window, bumble bees can indeed fly.
Little Skeeters come in the
following combinations: 10 gauge - 12 and 20; 12 gauge - 20, 28, .410; 16 gauge - 20, 28,
.410; 20 gauge - 28, .410.
At the last minute we have learned of an even
greater Stamp of Approval. Sales of Little Skeeters will be handled by
Browning. They are available from Browning dealers, Cabelas or on Little Skeeterss
web site: www.littleskeeters.com. For more
information contact: Hammond Game Getters, Box 41061, Petrolia PO, Edmonton Alberta T6J