A Spare Parts Story

A Spare Parts Story

If you tinker with firearms long enough, you will accumulate spare guns and spare parts, so here’s a spare parts story: A few years ago I purchased a Savage 300 win mag specifically for a long range class I was taking.

During that class I experienced some feeding issues which led me to build up a different win mag on a Defiance action and the Savage went on Gunbroker. The squirrely uh… individual who purchased it was a nightmare to deal with, and as soon as he received it, he was claiming the barrel was shot-out (which it wasn’t… by the way) and threatening to post negative reviews, etc… Because I’m a good guy who values his reputation I agreed to take the rifle back and from there it eventually wound up in separate pieces, most of which found their way to the dusty recesses of the safe for a few years.

Fast forward to spring of 2017, I moved from Ohio to New Mexico – right into the heart of elk country. I don’t actually do much hunting, but everyone else around here does and the most popular caliber used is .30-06. When I say it’s popular, I mean you can find ammo or components for it everywhere. There probably isn’t a garage or basement for miles that doesn’t have at least a partial box of ’06 stashed in it someplace.

Why is this relevant? At the time of writing this, ammunition is more plentiful and affordable than it was under the previous administration, but many of us remember days when prices and availability of ammo and components were affected by politics. Those times are bound to return. The ’06 is also a versatile caliber, capable of shooting a wide range of bullet weights and powders. So… it struck me that it would it be nice to have a rifle that was extremely versatile, accurate, with widely available ammunition and components, powerful enough to take down anything on this continent. Besides, I had this old Savage long action just sitting in the back of the safe begging me to do something with it.

Now… getting back to having spare parts. I also had a Savage .308 Winchester barrel that was a little shot out in my spare parts box and the idea hit me to ream a new chamber in it to use for this little project. Cutting a new chamber means cutting a new throat into fresh rifling which basically results in practically a new barrel. There was only one little problem: you can’t ream a .308 to a .30-06 because the .308 shoulder is wider than the .30-06 case sidewalls. Enter the work of Parker O. Ackley.

The .30-06 Ackley Improved blows the case walls out slightly wider, blows the shoulder forward and changes the angle to 40-degrees, as well as slightly shortening the case neck. The net results of these changes are slightly more case capacity and more efficient powder burn, which improves brass and barrel life – and a chamber that is larger than the .308 Win. in all dimensions.

Some folks like to dis the Ackley, and can’t help pointing out that there’s no ballistic benefit to “improving” .30 caliber cartridges (50-100 fps gain over conventional .30-06), but I don’t really care about their opinions. Ackley Improved chambers can fire not only Ackley Improved cartridges, but the standard SAAMI or NATO spec cartridges as well. In fact, fire-forming standard rounds by firing them in the Ackley Improved chamber is one method… the main method, of making AI brass. Almost everyone on the interwebz also says it’s impossible to chamber a barrel by hand without a lathe. Fair enough, I don’t care about their opinions either. I know my capabilities with hand tools and I made up my mind to try it anyway. I figured if I screwed up, I would be out one old shot-out barrel and the price of a finish reamer. At worse, if things didn’t work out, I could just buy a new barrel in some other long-action caliber and start over.

The trick I found to reaming the chamber by hand is to fix the reamer upright in a vise, use lots of cutting oil, carefully lower the barrel down onto the reamer and pull down gently on the threaded tenon while twisting to make the cut. I really only needed to ream about ½-inch of material and the piloted finish reamer theoretically has to follow the bore and stay straight. It was necessary to clean the chips from the reamer and the chamber frequently, as well as checking the depth of the cut with a go-gauge. It was about a 2-hour job going slow and carefully to make sure not to cut an oval chamber, cut too deep, or cut too rough. This is obviously a less than ideal method and proper gunsmithing would be better, but the idea behind this build was sort of a Mad-Max, post-apocalyptic, survival rifle Frankenstein-ed together from spare parts.

The beauty of the Savage design is that it can be re-barreled by almost anyone with a few specialized tools and basic armorer skills.

In the meantime, XLR industries was having a sale on left-handed stocks (did I mention this was a southpaw build?), and chassis stocks take standard pattern Accuracy International magazines which improves reliable feeding immensely, not to mention accuracy and ergonomics.

The Savage .300 Win Mag bolt head, I replaced with a .30-06 caliber bolt head from Pacific Tool and Gauge. I also replaced the Savage bolt handle with an extended “tactical” style handle from PTG.

Once assembled, I borrowed an optic from one of my other rifles just for experimental purposes. I really like the Minox ZP8, it’s a very well thought-out, first-focal-plane, 1-8X optic with great glass and features, but to be honest – it isn’t the right scope for this rifle. The magnification ring lever (which is a great feature) interrupts the motion of the bolt handle at anything past 5X. but it was good enough for testing though.

The first test of this rifle was at a dry arroyo on BLM land. The first-round fed and fired without catastrophic failure (a good sign!), and fireformed perfectly. After basic sight in, I fired a 5-round group with handloads (168gr Sierras) at 100 yards, expecting fairly loose accuracy given the hand-reamed chamber and conventional ’06 ammo had not yet fire-formed.

I was not expecting even minute of angle accuracy, much less sub-minute of angle accuracy, but 5 careful rounds resulted in one ragged, elongated hole approximately ¾” edge to edge. So much for the naysayers.

The brass fireformed perfectly, but now I needed to see if the steep 40-degree Ackley shoulder would feed properly from the magazine. One of the supposed flaws of Ackley-ized cartridges is feeding failures due to less cartridge taper. So far, using 208 gr. Hornady AMAX bullets loaded to an overall length of 3.34”, they feed perfectly from 5-round Magpul 30-06 AI-pattern magazines.

The moral of the story is it doesn’t matter what people on the internet tell you will or won’t work… you have to know what your own capabilities are and take little leaps of faith.

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